Lymphedema

Lymphedema is swelling, often in the arms or legs, due to damage to the lymphatic system. Common causes of swelling include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation
  • Trauma
  • Infection

In the case of the treatment for cancer, it may not show up until years later. It is estimated that about one-third of women who undergo axillary lymph node dissection during breast cancer treatment will develop lymphedema at some point in their life. Identifying and treating lymphedema early helps ensure faster and better outcomes, but even treatment later on, during the chronic stages of the disease, can still help.

The “gold standard” for the treatment of lymphedema is called Complete Decongestive Physiotherapy and has four main components:

  • Compression Therapy: usually with a specially fitted compression garment such as a sleeve or stocking
  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage: hands-on techniques to stimulate lymphatic flow
  • Sequential Exercises: exercises designed to facilitate lymphatic flow via muscle activity
  • Meticulous Skin Care and Precautions: to avoid infection

If you have swelling, an evaluation by a certified lymphedema therapist can help to determine the best treatment plan for you.

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“After surgery for breast cancer, my arm and chest swelling and pain kept me from many of the activities I love. Lymphatic drainage and learning the techniques I needed to manage my own swelling have allowed me to start many of my former activities again. I have been able to get back to kayaking, gardening, using tools and swimming. I am so grateful!”

~ Lisa F.

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