Breast cancer treatments designed to save lives often perform as desired, but that doesn’t mean side effects aren’t possible. Lymphedema is one of the possible side effects from treatment that can arise. If left unchecked, this condition can sometimes cause issues that impact all aspects of quality of life. It involves the swelling of the arms and/or legs following damage to or removal of lymph nodes. Since lymph node damage and removal tend to go hand-in-hand with breast cancer treatment, patients and their medical teams should be very mindful of the potential of lymphedema. When a careful, targeted approach is taken to monitor for the condition, early intervention can lessen its effects, but not necessarily lead to a cure.
Lymphedema arises when there is a blockage in the lymphatic system. This blockage stops lymph fluid from draining, which can cause buildup and eventually swelling. Symptoms may include a feeling of heaviness in the extremities, swelling, aching or pain, hardening or thickening of the skin and a restricted range of motion, among other things.
When signs of lymphedema are identified swiftly, early intervention measures can spare patients many of the possible symptoms. Early intervention measures may include compression garments. These, in fact, may be recommended in high-risk patients before signs of the condition are even present. Other treatments may include massage, exercises, pneumatic compression and lifestyle changes.
The key to preventing and managing lymphedema is a focused, team approach to watching for its approach. Patients and everyone involved in their care should be well-versed in the signs and symptoms and know when to take action to prevent the worst of symptoms.
Breast cancer treatments can save lives, but sometimes they may leave side effects behind. Lymphedema is one possible complication that patients and everyone involved in their care should be mindful of. While no cure is known, early action can ease symptoms and enable women to enjoy a higher quality of lfie.