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Lymphedema management for breast cancer

What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a condition in which fluid (lymph) is retained by the lymph nodes and causes swelling (edema), often in the arms or legs. The swelling occurs when a blockage in the lymphatic system prevents the fluid from draining adequately.

Lymphedema is often classified as primary or secondary. Primary lymphedema can develop when lymphatic vessels are missing or impaired, and is a hereditary condition. Secondary lymphedema can occur when lymph nodes or vessels are removed or damaged, which may develop as an unwanted side-effect of surgery (e.g., node dissection) or radiation treatment.

Lymphedema management

Video: Managing Lymphedema

Managing Lymphedema

Building your individualized lymphedema management plan

After breast cancer surgery, our Lymphedema Management Program can help prevent lymphedema and, if it occurs, help you proactively manage the condition.

To help prevent lymphedema:

  • Your surgeon may perform a sentinel lymph node biopsy prior to surgery to determine which lymph nodes need to be removed, while helping to preserve remaining lymph nodes in the axilla.
  • Your oncology rehabilitation therapist can provide gentle range-of-motion exercises, massage and education techniques you can use in your day-to-day life to stimulate your lymphatic system.
  • Your oncology rehabilitation therapist can also provide skin care, gentle massage and light exercises to help stimulate the lymphatic system.
  • Your care team may recommend compression bandages, pumps or garments (e.g., sleeves, stockings) to help prevent additional fluid from accumulating in the tissue.

To reduce the swelling associated with the condition:

  • Lymph drainage therapy: Lymph drainage therapy is a specialized massage technique designed to activate the pumping action of your lymphatic system. This pumping action reduces and, in some cases, prevents fluid buildup.
  • Le duc manual lymph drainage: Le duc manual lymph drainage employs a combination of manual lymph drainage with multi-layer bandaging and a compression pump, to clear excess lymphatic fluids from your body by activating the pumping action of the lymphatic system.

In addition, your care team offers various other integrative oncology services to help you feel better as you heal. Your pain management practitioner will provide pain control, including suggestions for medications to help reduce inflammation, prevent blood clots and treat infections. Your mind-body therapist can help you cope with the emotional impact of lymphedema by providing counseling and support groups.

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