The issue of lymphedema as a risk resulting from cancer surgery is still not always discussed. Since my cancer diagnosis in 1990, you would think this would have improved. It has to a small degree, but still there is much that is not shared.
One of these concerns is the risk of lymphedema due to the pressurization of the plane cabin when flying. Since winter heralds flocks of snowbirds and those of us tired of snow and sleet to warmer climates, I wanted to make sure you were aware and knew what to do.
Please invest in a lower compression (preventive) lymphedema sleeve. Wear it on the flight and make sure you also get a gauntlet (glove) with it. Some lymphedema sleeves have the gauntlet as part of the garment. Not only will the sleeve moderate the pressure on your arm, but will also remind you to be mindful when lifting your luggage as heavy lifting is also a risk factor.
Prevention is key. Once you are diagnosed with lymphedema, it will be a lifelong commitment of maintenance. Better to prevent if at all possible – at least reduce the risk by being aware.
These two words are not always associated together when wearing a lymphedema sleeve as they are normally flesh toned to blend in rather than stand out.
Some manufacturers have come to realize that some women want to make a fashion statement – or just a statement. Now you can see lymphedema sleeves in solid colors and even fancier ones with patterns to suit your outfit, mood or occasion.
One manufacturer has designed sleeves that are lighter weight but still have the same compression, are made of wicking fabric for summer or hot weather wear, and come in many fabulous patterns.
If you already have lymphedema, you will know what I am speaking about. You might as well make the best of a now lifelong management plan and have some fun. Enjoy exploring new options.
Lymphedema is a side effect of cancer surgery. It most often affect women who have breast cancer, but can also impact people who have had neck and/or throat surgeries as well as prostate or abdominal surgeries. Whenever lymph nodes are taken out, there is the potential for developing lymphedema.
Lymphedema happens when the lymph flow is compromised due to lymph nodes being removed. The bodies lymph system gets overloaded in this area (much like a commuter traffic jam when one or more lanes are closed). This creates swelling in the affected limb and/or torso.
Outer Compression Sleeve
One of the means of managing lymphedema is through bandaging done initially by a qualified lymphedema specialist. During the day, a compression sleeve is worn which is relatively easy to manage. For the night, many bandage their limb. To make this easier, there is a system that uses a inner sleeve and an outer lycra sleeve to apply the compression.
My suggestion is be aware of the prevention tips so you don’t get lymphedema in the first place. It is a chronic condition with no cure. However, sometimes with the best of care, it will happen. When it does, there are many options for managing lymphedema.
Having just returned from Hawaii, I want to share the issues surrounding the care needed to reduce the risk of lymphedema when travelling by air.
If you have had breast cancer, whether recent or a long time ago, you may not be aware that it is wise to wear a prevention compression sleeve when travelling by air. Here is an excerpt from a position paper ‘Air Travel and Lymphedema’ distributed by The National Lymphedema Network.
‘The cabin pressure that is experienced during air flight is less than the atmospheric pressure on the ground. During flight, cabin pressure decreases from sea level to the low air pressure found at between 6,000 and 8,000 feet above sea level. The decreased pressure within the plane’s cabin may give rise to increased swelling in a lymphedematous limb as tissue pressures are physiologically altered. (1; 2) Changes in fluid production in the tissues occur when the external pressures exerted on the limb are changed. (3) Diminished pressure in the airplane cabin will result in a decrease in the fluid moved in to the lymphatic system. The fluid will remain in the extracellular spaces and an exacerbation of lymphedema may result. (4) The use of the compression garments will provide external pressure on the extremity to adequately support favorable resorption and decrease the potential for fluid accumulation in the tissue. (5) The use of compression may prevent worsening of pre-existing lymphedema and is recommended for those with lymphedema during air travel. (6) Compression bandages will potentially increase the interstitial tissue pressure and enhance the muscle pump in the lymphedematous extremity. The beneficial outcomes are two-fold. First, resorption of fluid at the capillary level is enhanced due to the compression. Second, the garment or bandages stimulate the lymphatic system, via the muscle pump, and uptake of extracellular fluid increases, helping to prevent an exacerbation of lymphedema.’
Wearing the compression sleeve not only supports your arm while in the air, it serves as a physical reminder to take care when lifting and handling luggage. The compression sleeve also alerts others to your situation and many offer help with the heavy lifting.
It pays to be careful and take precautions to reduce the risk of getting lymphedema. Once you have lymphedema, it is a chronic issue which you will need to manage for life.
Those who have lymphedema are familiar with the basic lymphedema sleeve – natural color or black. Most wear the lymphedema or compression sleeve for function – to keep the lymph fluid moving through their arm to reduce the swelling. This compression sleeve needs to be worn all the time for most and especially when exercising.
There are now compression sleeves with some ‘chic’ factor. They are fun, easy to wear (same compression but lighter weight with less bunching at the elbow), have wicking capacity and can add substantially to an outfit. No longer just a practical necessity, you can have a wardrobe of sleeves to suit your fancy and still get all the benefits that wearing a compression sleeve offers.
Lymphedema being a lifetime side effect of cancer treatment means wearing a compression sleeve daily and also nightly for some depending on the severity of the condition.
The usual compression sleeve comes in fleshtones to make the sleeve less obvious or a sophisticated black. More recently, a fashion compression sleeve has been designed to add a lighthearted feel to a serious condition. These sleeves add a chic option to everyday wear or special occasions. Or they are just fun!
The LympheDiva sleeves are lighter in weight without losing compression, have a smooth surface so sleeves on tops don’t ride up, and are more comfortable in the elbow area as they don’t bind. Matching gauntlets round out the look.
If you have lymphedema, this stylish lymphedema sleeve will give you some fresh options.
Women who have lymphedema or have had lymph nodes removed as a result of breast cancer treatment need to wear compression sleeves when flying. The outside pressure when flying fluctuates wildly and can cause inefficient lymph flow. Inefficient flow can lead to fluid build up and swelling.
Another reason wearing compression sleeves is imperative is the fact that flying is a sedentary activity. Limited muscle movement also diminishes lymph flow. Overexertion, such as lifting heavy bags, after sitting for so long can cause an inflammatory response, again leading to swelling. In addition to wearing compression sleeves, try to do subtle stretches and seat exercises to increase lymph flow and decrease the likelihood of blood clots forming.
Since I’m due to travel shortly, the thought of lymphedema prevention and protection has crossed my mind. This is an area that people often overlook – feel they are safe and don’t need to worry. Wrong. The air pressure in the aircraft cabin can affect the lymph drainage in your arm, especially if you have had node dissection for breast cancer.
Wearing a lower compression lymphedema sleeve reduces your risk of getting lymphedema during travel. I found the one with a gauntlet (or glove) attached easier to manage rather than having two pieces. It is easy to slip the glove part off when washing your hands.
Also, having the lymphedema sleeve on is a great reminder to be careful when lifting your luggage, especially lifting heavy luggage. The recommended weight for lifting is 15 pounds. Get help if you need it. Most people are willing to be of assistance.
Lymphedema is a swelling of the arm and/or leg after surgery. Breast cancer and prostate cancer are the two most likely causes. Once you have lymphedema, it is a matter of managing the symptoms as there is no cure. I have talked about ways to reduce your risk, but once you have lymphedema, it is a matter of adapting it into your lifestyle.
One area will be the wearing of a lymphedema sleeve for arm lymphedema or a compression bra and/or camisole for torso lymphedema. You will need to be fitted properly by a trained lymphedema specialist who will diagnose your condition, provide initial manual lymphatic massage and bandaging to bring the arm or torso to a stable condition. They will then prescibe the proper tension and sizing for the compression garment. For some, you will be able to claim this garment on your health insurance.
There are also options for special arm lymphedema sleeves for nighttime use to eliminate the need for bandaging.
As you get familiar with your options, life will move on and you will incorporate these garments into your lifestyle.
It amazes me how many women who have had breast cancer surgery do not understand the need to wear a preventive sleeve when they travel by air to reduce the risk of lymphedema. It came up again the other day in a conversation with someone I thought would have known.
Most women understand that once they get lymphedema, they need to wear a sleeve. However, there is a lymphedema sleeve with lower compression that is designed to be worn as a preventive measure. I always wear mine when travelling. The air pressure in the cabin can cause a build up of fluid. I did recently read some research that disclaimed this, but the fact is, I do know of people who got lymphedema from cabin pressure. I’d rather be safe then sorry. It doesn’t take much to wear a sleeve.