Lymphedema: Prevention First

I have no personal experience with breast cancer.  The women in my family have been mostly blessed with good health and perhaps good genes. My maternal grandmother battled  bone cancer that metastasized from breast cancer, but I was only five at the time.  My only real memory is of the last time I spoke to her and she told me that I was her favourite, something she had told all her grandchildren.  So, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to first learn that you have a life threatening disease and undergo countless treatments and surgeries only to be told that you now have a lifetime risk of developing edema in one or both arms.

I hate telling women this fact, and at the same time I know that education is the best way to prevent some women from developing lymphedema. The most common risk factors for developing lymphedema are:

  • Surgeries that remove or damage lymph nodes or disrupt lymphatic vessels, radiation
  • Obesity and poor nutrition
  • Trauma to the limb
  • Infection
  • Hypertension
  • Congenital predisposition
  • Advanced cancer
  • Chronic skin disorders and inflammation

 

The best way that you can prevent lymphedema is to minimize or avoid risk factors and promote a healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips:

  • Maintain a healthy weight and eat nutritious food
  • Get enough sleep and exercise regularly
  • Avoid having blood pressure taken on that limb
  • Avoid needles, shaving, manicures on that limb
  • Wash your skin with a ph neutral soap and apply ph neutral lotion
  • Always wear bug repellant and sunscreen in summer months
  • Get MLD on a regular basis to promote lymphatic flow
  • Take baseline measurements of the affected limb

 

If you notice swelling in your arm, take heart, it is not necessarily permanent. Lymphedema can be reversible in the early stage and is treatable at any stage. Complex decongestive therapy includes MLD, compression, skin care and exercises and is the gold standard treatment. If you have any concerns, give us a call, we are here to help.