Powerful Combo: Reducing Lymphedema
It’s an unsightly side effect of breast cancer many survivors have to live with. Now, see how a new way to deliver cancer treatment is reducing the risk of lymphedema.
Between 5 percent and 40 percent of women are estimated to experience some form of lymphedema after breast cancer surgery; however, the condition is often overlooked or misdiagnosed. Lymphedema occurs when the lymph system is damaged or blocked. It can cause fluid buildup and swelling and usually affects an arm or a leg, but it can affect other parts of the body. Lymph fluid, tumors, lymph vessels and lymph nodes all can play a part in lymphedema.
(SOURCES: www.breastcancer.org, www.cancer.gov)
CAUSES AND SYMPTOMS: Lymphedema can be either primary or secondary. Primary lymphedema is caused by abnormal development and can occur at birth or develop later in life. Secondary lymphedema is caused by damage to the lymph system due to infection, injury, cancer, scar tissue, or radiation therapy. People can be at risk of developing lymphedema if they are obese, smoke heavily, have diabetes or have had a mastectomy or previous surgery to the armpit area. Along with swelling, people with lymphedema may experience a feeling of heaviness or tightness in the arm or leg. They may also feel aching or discomfort and possibly hardening of the skin around the affected area.
(SOURCES: www.cancer.gov, www.breastcancer.org and Mayo Clinic)
NEW PREVENTION TECHNIQUES: Using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) along with computerized tomography (CT) scans, doctors may be able to offer substantial protection against lymphedema. Although a person may have as many as 62 lymph nodes under the arm, only a few are responsible for the removal of fluids from the arm. The SPECT-CT technique works best for patients who do not require radiation targeting any remaining lymph nodes. The risk of developing lymphedema may be as much as 50 percent without taking measures to preserve the function of a person’s lymphatic system. Because lymphedema can occur years after a surgery, patients will continue to be monitored by their physicians for signs of lymphedema. Currently, there are two treatment plans for each patient: a standard plan and one adapted for lymph node sparing based on the SPECT-CT scans.
(SOURCE: Mayo Clinic)
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