Reducing the Swelling:
Lymphedema -- which
causes swelling in the arms or legs -- can be a
frustrating and chronic long-term side effect of
cancer treatment. We talked with Katherine
Konosky, an occupational therapist who specializes
in lymphedema treatment, about what people can do
to alleviate symptoms. Be sure to check out her tips for prevention as well.
New laser therapy among treatment options for lymphedema
patients cope with
Attend a class to learn more.
View the schedule
or call 1-877-408-7377 (PFSS) to register.
What is lymphedema and
why does it occur?
Lymphedema is an accumulation
of fluid in the tissue spaces
of the body that causes swelling.
When we're talking about cancer
patients, lymphedema occurs
when lymph nodes are removed
or damaged in the course of
treatment. For example, a patient
may need a lymph node dissection
to determine whether the cancer
has spread. Or radiation may
damage lymph nodes. Any time
lymph nodes are injured, there's
a chance the person will develop
With what types of cancers
is this most commonly
We see people who have been
treated for cancers of the breast,
ovaries, prostate, colon, and head
and neck, as well as melanoma.
What are the signs?
Initially, someone might feel firmness
in the affected arm or leg.
You might be able to push your
thumb into your arm or leg, and
the thumbprint remains. Or parts
of your limb might feel denser or
have a different texture, for example
swelling around the ankle.
What treatments are
People with lymphedema should
see an occupational therapist for
manual lymph drainage, a special
form of light massage. A therapist
can also teach patients deep
breathing and stretching exercises
that can increase the rate of fluid
return. Compression garments
or bandages may be helpful. In
addition, we now offer a painless,
low-level laser therapy that
has been proven to help patients
maintain fluid reductions or
increase fluid reductions up to
six months after treatment.
If we're being honest, most
of us don't remember our
high school biology classes
well enough to remember
what the lymphatic system
does. Can you give us a
Lymph is a fluid in your body that
contains white blood cells-which
fight infection. Lymph flows
through the body via a network
of thin tubes, called lymph vessels,
and small bean-shaped structures,
called lymph nodes. If part of your
lymphatic system is damaged or
blocked, lymph cannot drain from
nearby tissues. That's when you
start to see swelling in an arm or
Are some people at higher
risk of developing lymphedema?
Anyone who has undergone lymph
node dissection or radiation that
has damaged the lymph nodes is at
risk. People who are overweight
or have diabetes are at greater
risk. But we don't fully understand
why one person may develop
lymphedema immediately, while
another person may develop it
several years down the road and
a third person may never develop
it. We do think that inflammation
may play a role in its development,
so we caution patients to
be careful to prevent any type of
trauma to the body, particularly to
the limb affected by treatment.
Keep reading to learn the 7 Things You Can Do to
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