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  • Brianna Wehner

Lymphedema: Are you at risk?

“Lymphedema: It’s cancers dirty little secret and one of the most overlooked topics that most cancer patients are never told about.”

- Andrea Leonard, CETI Founder

Lymphedema: What You Need to Know

Picture this, there’s a highway full of cars during the morning work rush but even though it's busy all the lanes are open, and the traffic is running smoothly.

Now imagine, the next morning, the same number of cars are all heading along the highway to work except now one of the lanes is closed for roadworks and the traffic isn’t moving as freely. The cars are starting to get backed up creating a bottleneck where the lane is shut.

This is like Lymphedema.

The highway is the lymphatic system, the cars are the lymph fluid and the lanes, when closed, represent a damaged lymphatic system.

Put another way, Lymphedema is swelling produced by an accumulation of lymph fluid in the tissue and can be a result of a damaged or compromised lymphatic system. It most commonly effects the arms and legs on either side of the body but can also present itself in other areas.

Anyone diagnosed with cancer who has had lymph nodes removed anywhere in their body or who has undergone radiation is at risk of developing lymphedema.

The good news is that with proper knowledge, lymphedema can be managed, or even prevented!

While research has shown that some cancer patients don’t get told about lymphedema from their medical professionals, it is also understandable that with all the information patients are trying to process about their cancer, its treatments and other decisions they have to make, it is easy for information, like lymphedema, to be forgotten or overlooked.

That’s where Align can help.

We strive to educate cancer clients about lymphedema, risk factors for developing it, ways to minimise your risk, as well as specific, safe exercises to prevent and/or manage lymphedema.

“Lymphedema may develop within days or many years after treatment. Most lymphedema develops within three years of surgery”

- PDQ® Supportive and Palliative Care Editorial Board.

6 Ways to Minimise Your Risk of Lymphedema

While cancer patients who have had radiation treatment or lymph nodes removed are a risk of developing lymphedema there are some other factors which can also contribute to an increased risk.

Take that highway of cars we mentioned earlier during the morning work rush, other factors would be representative of more lanes being shut down or blocked off. The more lanes closed, the slower the traffic moves and the more back logged those cars are going to get.

Some other risk factors include:

  • Number of lymph nodes removed (a higher number can lead to a higher risk)

  • Being overweight or obese

  • Infection or injury

  • Age

  • Poor nutrition

Some risk factors may be out of your control; however, a lot of potential risk factors are still able to be managed. And it will be crucial to do so, no matter how long it has been post-treatment.

Some ways to minimise your risk:

So, if you’ve gone through radiation or had lymph nodes removed here are a few ways, of many, to minimise your risk:

  • Try to avoid insect bites, burns, skin irritants, hangnails or torn cuticles

  • Don’t overheat – avoid saunas, whirlpools, steam rooms, hot baths and sun-bathing

  • Losing weight can help reduce the amount of fatty tissue which retains fluid and blocks lymphatic pathways

  • Avoid heavy lifting with the affected or at-risk arm (carry handbags or bags with over the shoulder straps on the unaffected side)

  • Avoid repetitive movements with the affected area – This is especially important to remember for ‘risky sports’, such as tennis, golf, bowling, soccer, running etc

  • Perform lymph drainage exercises (More details to come)

Align can help you monitor, as well as manage and reduce your risk of lymphedema.

As Qualified Cancer Exercise Specialists we take the guess work and worry out of your exercise and physical activity. We design safe and effective programs specifically for you that will help take all these factors into account on a day to day basis. We also help clients manage other risk factors such as weight and guide them through specific lymph drainage exercises to keep the highway running as efficiently as it can!

If you're interested in a personalised program consisting of lymph drainage exercises to manage or even prevent your risk of lymphedema - Get in touch today!

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