Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Early Detection and Prevention of Lymphedema

I'm very glad to see more research being done on lymphedema. In our cancer care system, at least, there's very little attention paid to it (in my experience) and yet I know and hear of massage therapists who specialize in lymphatic massage say they can usually prevent the condition from developing if they are able to work with someone at risk within a few weeks of their surgery and/or radiation treatments. Because of the loss of quality of life (and interference with employment, too, for example) and the medical costs of dealing with what can be irreversible, you would think our health systems would put a little more emphasis on including early detection and prevention as part of breast cancer treatment protocols.

With that in mind, I am really glad to see this report.

Please follow the link to download the report on lymphedema.

"Lymphedema is a painful arm swelling caused by lymphatic fluid accumulation. It is most commonly associated with axillary lymph node dissection, but can be caused by any treatment which damages the lymphatic system. It is universally recognized that early detection and treatment yields the best results.

Yesterday, an expert panel convened by the Avon Foundation for Women, the Lymphatic Research Foundation and the National Lymphatic Network issued a white paper on lymphedema detection and care. Both the white paper and a PR Newswire press release may be found on the axillary lymph node dissection page of our website.

Typically, lymphedema is not detected until discomfort is present or swelling is visible. The white paper reviews the recent research and recommends pre-treatment baseline measurement and continuous monitoring post-treatment to detect lymphedema before visible swelling and discomfort. This is a novel recommendation. For example, the National Cancer Institute publishes a comprehensive summary of lymphedema (link), but the only preventative measure suggested is notifying your doctor if you notice signs of lymphedema such as discomfort and swelling.

In addition to early detection, the benefits of physical therapy, weight bearing exercise the compression sleeves are also discussed in the paper.

Breast cancer patients facing surgery or radiation may want to print the white paper and/or press release and discuss baseline measurements, post-treatment monitoring, exercise, compression sleeves and other lymphedema prevention techniques with their doctors. With proper monitoring, lymphedema may be detected and treated before obvious symptoms appear.


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