Warning Signs of Lymphedema
By: Kathleen Lisson, CMT, CLT*
What is Lymphedema?
It’s cancer treatment’s dirty little secret – chronic swelling that forms after our lymph nodes are taken in a biopsy, removed during cancer surgery or affected during radiation. The treatments for some cancers, like head and neck cancers, breast and gynecological cancer and melanoma, are far more likely to result in lymphedema. Swelling can start anywhere from weeks to decades after treatment, so it’s smart to know what to look for and ways to reduce our risk for lymphedema.
Lymphedema strikes in the area of the body where lymph nodes have been affected – in the arm or torso for breast cancer and the leg or abdomen for gynecological cancers.
What to look for:
A feeling of heaviness in the affected area
Clothes are tighter on one side in the sleeve or leg.
One side of the torso looks larger than the other
Rings and bracelets may not fit
How to reduce your risk:
Do protect your skin –
Do wear sunscreen to prevent sunburns
Do wear bug repellant to prevent bug bites
Do wear garden gloves when in the garden
Do be careful around small animals that may bite or scratch
Don’t overwhelm your system:
Don’t get deep tissue massage on the affected arm or leg
Don’t pile up all the chores and do them all at once – move the furniture around, rake the entire yard, shovel snow for hours – this could overwhelm your system
If you do experience symptoms contact your physician or oncologist and ask to be referred to a Certified Lymphedema Therapist.
*Kathleen Lisson is a Certified Lymphedema Therapist in San Diego, CA and author of Swollen, Bloated and Puffy: A manual lymphatic drainage therapist’s guide to reducing swelling in the face and body.