Lymphedema After Breast Cancer Treatment
Having a diagnosis of lymphedema after breast cancer treatment is a concern for most women who have survived. When lymphedema strikes it can be like receiving a second gut punch. In itself it may not be life threatening but when infection occurs it becomes serious. There is no cure. You can learn more from Mayo Clinic here.
Anyone can develop lymphedema not just cancer survivors and not just women. Infants can be born with lymphedema. Many people have lymphedema without having had surgery or invasive damage to their lymphatic system. This is referred to as primary lymphedema.
Damaged Lymphatic System
Any damage to the lymphatic system can result in lymphedema. This article will focus on women who develop lymphedema after cancer treatment. This is called secondary lymphedema.
The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system and an important part of the immune system. Our lymph fluid drains into our bloodstream at the subclavian vein in the neck. These diagrams explain the lymphatic system.
Women with damaged lymphatic system are at greater risk for infection. When an infection occurs it becomes serious in women with lymphedema. Learn more about infections and lymphedema from breastcancer.org.
There are support groups for women effected by lymphedema accross the country. You can learn more about support from National Lymphedema Network at lymphnet. There are many support groups on social media as well.
Lymphedema Self Care
As a lymphedema patient you can find clinical treatment and advice at your nearest cancer center. It is vitally important that you follow up with your self care at home. Be vigilant about any cuts or scrapes on your skin on the effected area. Common advice is to wear no jewelry, watches, or rings on the effected limb. Do not have blood pressure or blood draws taken from the effected limb. Infection can set in very quickly so you need to know what to look for.
Your physician should look immediately at any red patches of skin that become hot to the touch. Report signs of infection such as fever, chills and body aches, to your physician immediately. The National Lymphatic Network has good information about complications from lymphedema here.
Finally, the following video explains lymphedema in detail.