Lymphedema refers to swelling caused by a build-up of lymphatic fluid in the body. It is commonly brought about by the surgical removal of or damage to one's lymph nodes due to cancer or cancer treatment. For example, a tumor may block the flow of lymph fluid and result in a blockage. In other cases, lymphedema may develop due to damaged lymph nodes as a result of surgery or radiation.
Your lymphatic system serves a critical biological role. It’s job is to circulate lymph fluid (a protein rich solution) throughout your body, capturing bacteria, viruses and waste. These wastes are then filtered through your lymph nodes, by infection fighting cells called lymphocytes, and then flushed from your body. According to the NIH, 5-17% of women who have a sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) develop lymphedema and the percentage increases up to 53% for women who have an axillary (armpit) lymph node dissection (ALND).
Lymphedema can occur a few months after treatment and, in some cases, may manifest 20 years later. While there is currently no cure for lymphedema there are precautions people can take to reduce the chances of developing it - such as keeping the affected arm clean and avoiding cuts.
Suggestion: When going for your follow up doctor's appointments, ask to have your blood pressure taken, and/or any bloodwork drawn, from the non-affected side. You may may also want to avoid wearing tight clothing, watches and restrictive jewelry to prevent any lymph blockage.
In the event that you develop lymphedema, there are several therapies available to manage the swelling, reduce the pain and promote the flow of lymph throughout the body. You may consider wearing a compression garment when flying or working out as a preventative measure. Compression garments may also be worn more routinely to manage symptoms. The Lymphedema Network has a directory of massage therapists who work with patients and perform lymphatic drainage. This practice can be taught to patients and is a technique that can be used daily at home. Depending on the severity, a lymphedema therapist may also recommend bandaging/wrapping the arm to mimic a pumping sensation and help promote the flow of lymph fluid.
While those who have had lymph nodes removed (or had radiation to the lymphatic area) may feel that they are always in a state of managing lymphedema - either preventative or treatment, the good news is that there are several treatments and therapies available so that the swelling and pain do not become severe. If you have developed lymphedema, massaging and wrapping your arm can become part of your bedtime routine just like brushing your teeth and flossing.
Today's #FeatureFriday highlights information on maintaining a healthy lymphatic system after a breast cancer diagnosis as well as information and resources on prevention and treatments
What are you doing to prevent or manage lymphedema?
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Lymphedema does not dissipate by itself and continues to progress without adequate treatment.
The goal of lymphedema management is to reduce the lymphedematous swelling to a normal or near normal size utilizing remaining healthy lymph vessels and other lymphatic pathways. Once the lymphedema is decongested, the secondary goal is to maintain the reduction and to prevent the re-accumulation of lymph fluid.
About one in five women who are living with or beyond breast cancer and who have had the lymph nodes in their underarm removed during breast cancer treatment will develop lymphedema. Identifying and treating lymphedema early helps to ensure more rapid and improved outcomes.
A clinical-stage biotherapeutics company dedicated to discovering, developing and commercializing highly differentiated medicines for devastating diseases, today announced the initiation of a Phase 2a proof-of-concept study of LYT-100 (deupirfenidone) in patients with breast cancer-related, upper limb secondary lymphedema, a chronic and progressive disorder for which there are no FDA-approved drug therapies. LYT-100 is PureTech’s wholly-owned product candidate that is being advanced for the potential treatment of conditions involving inflammation and fibrosis and disorders of lymphatic flow.
If your lymphedema progresses despite using medical treatments, you may be a candidate for surgery. There are several options that your doctor will discuss with you: Vascularized lymph node transfer surgery (lymphovenous transplant), Lymphaticovenous anastomosis (also referred to as lymphovenous bypass), or Charles procedure (skin grafts)