Lymphedema is a common secondary complication associated with breast cancer and cancer treatments. Damage or removal of lymph nodes in the region (armpit or neck), or the cancer itself, can lead to slower transport of tissue fluid out of the breast, upper back, and/or arm on the same side as the cancer treatment. The body’s inability to effectively drain the involved area leads to an accumulation of fluid in the tissue spaces of the skin, along with a build-up of blood proteins and cell waste products. This fluid accumulation, or swelling, is known as lymphedema. Monitoring the skin of the involved side for signs of swelling is the first line of defense in response to a potential problem. If you have had breast cancer (or know someone who has), be aware of any changes in the skin on the side of the cancer treatment, such as:
- The breast, upper body, or arm feels full or puffy.
- The involved area feels unusually tired or achy at the end of the day compared to early morning. There may also be a feeling of heaviness or weakness.
- The natural body contours, muscle delineations, or tendons of the hand and arm appear obscured compared to the side without treatment.
- Articles of clothing (such as a bra or a shirt with sleeves) do not fit right or cause indentations in the skin.
- The skin feels thick, firm, or pits when you press your finger into it.
If you have any of these symptoms, or think you may have lymphedema, there are many healthy habits designed to lessen swelling and lower your risk for lymphedema. For more information, check out lymphnet.com and lymphnotes.com. To schedule a consultation with a certified Lymphedema Therapist, contact our office at 865-232-1415. To learn more about Kathy Kearse, PT, CLT-LANA click here to see her bio.