Lymphedema is usually seen as a swelling of an arm or leg because of damage to one or more lymph nodes. The nodes are the filtration system that helps the protein-rich lymph fluid break down and distribute it throughout the body. Biopsy and surgery often permanently remove lymph nodes, and radiation therapy can destroy them. Once damages, they do not regenerate. Without these lymph nodes, especially in cluster areas, such as under the armpit, in the groin, or in the neck, there is a permanent risk of lymphedema. It may also be caused by a tumor, infection or injury. Approximately 90% of women develop lymphedema within 3 years of treatment. Early detection is important to slow progression and maximizes treatment.
Improper massage technique, including chair massage or a deep tissue massage to the at-risk area, can trigger lymphedema and cause already damaged lymph systems to malfunction and or become obstructed. If you are at risk for lymphedema, we urge you to find an Oncology Massage Therapist (OMT), and if you have developed lymphedema, the OMT can still see you, or in more serious cases, see someone trained in MLD (Manual Lymph Drainage) or CDT (Complete Decongestive Therapy).
Treatment recommendations consist of exercise, pressure gradient dressings, massage, decongestive therapy, and sometimes surgery. Cure is unusual, but treatment may lessen symptoms, slow progression, and prevent complications. Patients are at risk of cellulitis, lymphangitis, and, rarely, lymphangiosarcoma. Common problems of perpetual discomfort and feeling handicapped on a daily basis. For more information please visit the National Lymphedema Network webpage: www.lymphnet.org