How To Manage Lymphedema After Breast Cancer Treatment
During breast cancer surgery, many women have lymph nodes in their armpits removed. Lymph nodes may also be damaged during radiation therapy. Without properly working lymph nodes (which help move fluid through the body), women can develop a condition called lymphedema.
Though lymphedema is less common now than it used to be, it can still disrupt your life. In women with lymphedema, fluid builds up in the arms, hands and fingers. It may be a small amount of fluid or enough to cause pain and trouble moving the arm. It can also cause your skin to feel tough or thicker.
How to Spot Lymphedema
When treated early, it may be possible to reverse lymphedema and prevent it from coming back. However, lymphedema in later stages may need repeat treatment throughout your life.
To catch lymphedema early, it is important to be on the lookout for signs of the condition. Early signs may include a strange tingling or numbness in your arm. You may also feel like your arm is heavy or that it isn’t as flexible as it used to be. If you begin to feel these signs, contact your oncologist.
How to Manage Lymphedema
If you develop lymphedema, your oncologist may refer you to a physical therapist who is trained in lymphedema management. You may meet with this physical therapist two or three times per week for eight weeks or more.
During your appointment, you’ll take part in Complete Decompressive Therapy (CDT). This personalized program will use many techniques to get fluid to drain and protect your limb. Your treatment may include:
- Massage to help fluid drain away
- Exercise to improve circulation of fluids
- Compression bandages to help drain fluid and keep it out
- Education in how to care for your lymphedema at home
- Aquatic therapy to allow you to exercise with less strain and increased circulation
You and your physical therapist can determine which therapies are best for you.
Garments to Manage Lymphedema
Certain garments, such as compression sleeves, can help prevent lymphedema. Your physical therapist can fit you for these garments and teach you how to use them successfully after your swelling has gone down. You may need to wear these garments throughout your life.
At Bon Secours Physical Therapy, we offer comprehensive lymphatic drainage massage to breast cancer survivors. We respect your strength throughout your cancer journey and strive to help you have the highest quality of life possible after treatment.
Find relief from the pain and swelling of lymphedema; contact us today to schedule your first appointment.