Today marks Lymphedema Awareness “D” Day, a day to honor patients and raise awareness about the condition.
Lymphedema is swelling, or edema, caused by an abnormal collection of fluid just beneath the skin. It can develop when lymph nodes are removed or lymph vessels are damaged following cancer-related surgery or treatment such as radiation therapy.
Swelling most often occurs in the arms or legs, but can also occur in the head, neck, trunk, or genitals depending on which nodes or vessels were affected.
Early intervention of lymphedema is key to positive outcomes and improved quality of life. “Early warning signs include heaviness in the affected arm or leg, clothing or jewelry that fits too tightly, or early onset fatigue in the affected arm or leg. These symptoms often occur before edema is visible,” says Kathryn Doran, DPT, CLT, certified lymphedema therapist at our Philadelphia hospital.
What three things can patients do to lower their risk of lymphedema?
- Knowledge is power. Talk with your health care provider before your planned surgery or cancer treatment so you can prepare ahead to reduce risk, and improve functional outcomes and quality of life.
- Stay on top of early signs. If you notice swelling in an area, notify your health care provider. Even if the edema goes away, it could still be an early sign of lymphedema.
- Connect with a Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT) to learn about their role in reducing and managing lymphedema during your treatment.
Doran says her team distributes risk reduction kits that include items such as gloves, stress ball, band-aids, insect repellent, sunscreen, and educational brochures, to reduce exposure to risk factors. “Should lymphedema occur, each plan of care should be specific to the patient, and may include exercise, skin care, compression therapy, manual lymph drainage and garment prescription,” says Doran.
There are many lymphedema resources available. Gold standard resources include the National Lymphedema Network and the American Cancer Society.
Read 12 tips for managing lymphedema.