Lymphedema may cause pain after surgery

BALTIMORE - One possible painful and uncomfortable side effect from Cancer treatment is something known as Lymphedema. This is the swelling that occurs in a patient's arms or legs and can be debilitating.

There is no cure, but there are some ways to improve the quality of life of someone suffering from Lymphedema.

Kathryn Doran is a Physical Therapist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Philadelphia. She focuses on ways that rehabilitation can help ease the symptoms of Lymphedema.

First of all what is Lymphedema? Doran says that it is a compromise to the lymphatic system caused by most cancer related surgeries and treatments. It can be seen as swollen arm, leg, face and any affected body part.

At CTCA, all cancer patients have a cancer diagnosis and many of them choose surgery options, but that surgery puts them at risk for developing Lymphedema, so it's important to educate them about the risks and prevention, she said.

So what are some of the risk factors for developing Lymphedema?

Overexertion, heavy lifting, blood pressure or needle sticks on the surgical arm or leg, infection, sunburn, insect bites, radiation treatment and scar tissue. During the surgery, in addition to removing the cancerous tumor, the surgeon might also go in and remove some lymph nodes for staging. This too could be connected to Lymphedema, often those who have had lymph nodes taken out are at a higher risk.

Duran says, before and after surgery, "patients should be aware of certain triggers such as, inflammatory response, lifting objects, over exerting and infection."

What are the symptoms of Lymphedema?

Achiness or heaviness in the arm or leg, felling of tightness with clothing such as jewelry or socks and weakness in the arm or leg.

How can physical therapy help ease the symptoms of Lymphedema?

"Manual lymph drainage, which is different than a massage, compression garments or bandages, patient education for skin care and exercise," said Doran.

Doran says "at CTCA, we practice a proactive approach to manage Lymphedema takes place. They believe anyone who has had cancer related surgeries, should be educated on the signs and symptoms of Lymphedema, and know how to treat it."

For more information about Lymphedema or about Cancer Treatment Centers of America, click here

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