Absolutely, yes, lymphedema can affect your torso? I hadn’t heard of this instance much until recently. Those who have had breast cancer surgery can have the area around the back and/or front of the torso swell as lymph is not cleared away. This can also happen to those who have had surgery or treatment near the neck (i.e. thyroid cancer or leukemia).
Most familiar and visible is the lymphedema sleeve which controls arm lymphedema. There are also compression or lymphedema camisoles that control the torso swelling. Popular body trimming garments may look the same; however, the compression garments for lymphedema are specifically designed to control lymph flow, have breast pockets for mastectomy patients, and in addition provide body trimming.
This past Monday, I had occasion to attend the Lymphedema Conference organized by the Alberta Lymphedema Association. The guest speaker I heard was Dr. Andrea L. Cheville, Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. Dr. Cheville explained the anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology of lymphedema in clear laymen terms. Over 300 people attended – doctors, nurses, caregivers, suppliers and most importantly, those with lymphedema.
Finally, someone is speaking out about lymphedema and what it truly means for those who either are born with lymphdema (primary) or develop lymphedema from trauma such as cancer surgery (secondary).
If you have an opportunity to attend a similar conference in your area, I highly recommend you go and take as many people with you as are interested. In the United States, you can contact the National Lymphedema Network for associations in your area.
There are some indicators that you might have the start of lymphedema. If caught early, you can reduce the severity and sometimes reverse lymphedema as I’ve seen a few times with my students.
Signs and Symptoms:
1. Any feeling of fullness in the limb and sometimes in the chest wall.
2. Skin feeling snug or tight
3. Swelling in the fingers or hand – rings are suddenly too tight or wrist bands of sweaters, a watch or bracelet feel uncomfortable
4. Loss of flexibility in the wrist or hand
It is very important to get immediate attention if you notice any of the above symptoms or have persistent swelling. Find a qualified lymphedema specialist (i.e. Vodder certified) in your area and have your condition assessed. Quick action and attention will greatly reduce the severity of the condition.
Once diagnosed, you will be given a treatment plan which might include an initial bandaging stage and later a fitted lymphedema sleeve. If you are in a more rural area without these resources, there are ready-to-wear lymphedema or compression sleeves available.
For those who have had abdominal cancer surgeries which affect the lymph nodes in the groin, lymphedema can affect your lower limbs – same symptoms as above. This often happens to men who have had prostate cancer.
Lymphedema is still not widely understood or acknowledged as a risk of cancer, especially breast cancer. There are guidelines for prevention if known beforehand. The sad thing is that once a person gets lymphedema, there is no cure. So, prevention is key.
So, what is Lymphedema. Here is an excellent video explaining exactly what lymphedema is.
A verbal definition of lymphedema, as stated by the National Lymphedema Network, is:
“Lymphedema is an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the interstitial tissue that causes swelling, most often in the arm(s) and/or leg(s), and occasionally in other parts of the body. Lymphedema can develop when lymphatic vessels are missing or impaired (primary), or when lymph vessels are damaged or lymph nodes removed (secondary).
When the impairment becomes so great that the lymphatic fluid exceeds the lymphatic transport capacity, an abnormal amount of protein-rich fluid collects in the tissues of the affected area. Left untreated, this stagnant, protein-rich fluid not only causes tissue channels to increase in size and number, but also reduces oxygen availability in the transport system, interferes with wound healing, and provides a culture medium for bacteria that can result in lymphangitis (infection).”
Lymphedema can occur in the upper and lower extremities (arms and legs – and even torso). You are at risk if you have had surgery for cancer that involves removal of lymph nodes. For more detailed information, read the following books about Lymphedema.
Over the next few posts, I will be covering some the issues related to lymphedema and cancer.