L et ’ s L earn A bout L ymphedema
THE MOST COMMON BUT OVERLOOKED POSTOPERATIVE COMPLICATION
Vital Care Patients ENTER TO WIN Find the misspelled word in this newsletter and call (623) 544-0300 for your chance to win a $10 gift card! CALL (623) 544-0300 Contest is for past and present Vital Care PT patients only. Lymphedema is a postoperative complication for breast, ovarian, cervical, prostate, and other kinds of cancer. It can stem from the surgical procedures used to remove lymph nodes and/ or radiation therapy, both of which can disrupt For the last 30 years, American women and men have tirelessly fundraised to increase awareness about the most prevalent type of cancer: breast cancer. According to breastcancer.org, 1 in 8 American women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in her life. Usually, the prevalence of a specific diagnosis leads to heightened societal awareness, and in the case of breast cancer, this is true. But in the case of lymphedema (a common condition associated with the accumulation of lymphatic fluid, consisting primary of water and proteins under the skin due to poor lymphatic transport), knowledge and prevention tactics have remained extremely low despite its alarmingly high statistics.
lymph drainage. It is thought that the greater number of lymph nodes removed surgically, the greater risk there is of developing lymphedema. Affected patients can suffer from extreme swelling, loss of range of motion, and pain. These symptoms typically affect the limbs, trunk, internal organs, genitalia, head, and neck. When Andrea McWhorter realized the prevalence of this condition, she looked into our community here in the west valley and found that there was a lack of providers to help people with lymphedema and a strong need for education and awareness within this community and nationwide. She encouraged me to pursue a certification in lymphedema therapy. And in 2016, that is exactly what I did. During my last two years specializing in lymphedema, I have had the opportunity to work with so many strong and driven patients. I have learned so much about their desire to fight, learn, and live. Lymphedema patients are truly inspiring. Although lymphedema can affect both men and women, it can stem from a variety of health issues. A vast majority of my patients suffer from secondary (not congenital) lymphedema due to lumpectomy or mastectomy procedures. This can entail radiation treatment and/or the removal of breast tissue, nodes, or the entire breast to prevent the cancer from metastasizing (spreading). During the recovery process, patients conduct their own research or join help groups, and this is when some patients discover their risk for developing lymphedema. All on their own! For this reason, Andrea and I are actively working hard to go beyond the treatment by focusing on preventative measures and spreading awareness and education in the community.
Another aspect that I want to mention in association with lymphedema is axillary web syndrome (AWS), also referred to as “cording,” which is another common postoperative complication that, like lymphedema, is not talked about enough. AWS looks like cords. It is usually located in the armpit area but can spread to the chest or down the arm as well. This disorder may develop due to a disruption of the lymphatic system, node removal, and/or trauma. Cording
“I have learned so much about their desire to fight, their desire to learn, and their desire to live.”
is present 1–5 weeks post-surgery and can sometimes resolve on its own. Axillary cording can also be present months after surgery. AWS is painful and can limit range of motion. Without treatment, AWS can cause further impairments such as frozen shoulder, poor posture, and altered movement patterns. AWS is sometimes overlooked; however, with an evaluation from a certified lymphedema therapist, we can provide you with the tools necessary for the resolution and self-management of axillary web syndrome. awareness about lymphedema, a condition that is just as common but does not get the attention that patients need and deserve. My hope is to educate patients, families, and the community to raise awareness. If lymphedema is detected early, it is less costly to the patient and keeps the disease from progressing. Although there is no cure for lymphedema, there are ways to manage the common pathology. –Michelle Garza, DPT, CLT Because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I wanted to take the time to raise
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