Lymphoedema is a side effect of some cancer treatments

When you are diagnosed with any form of cancer that can be frightening but then to be diagnosed with lymphoedema as a direct result of your cancer treatment is a double whammy. Lymphoedema is mostly diagnosed in a limb but can also be diagnosed in the head, neck, breast, and genital areas.

Once the lymphatic system is damaged, we focus on the successful ways of managing your lymphoedema, how to control and reduce your swelling with the support of lymphoedema practitioners or therapists. If you find any swelling, please show your cancer team. The earlier you receive your diagnosis the earlier you can be referred to a lymphoedema specialist and you can start treatment. However, it does require you to learn to take an active part in your own management and eventually you will learn to know what works for you. Please ask your practitioner to show you how you can manage your symptoms at home. Listen to the advice your practitioner will give you on skin care, compression, hydration, and movement.

 

Cancer related lymphoedema is likely to be found in the first few weeks or months after your cancer treatment but we do have members that have gone several years before developing lymphoedema.

When I was diagnosed there was little help or support and thankfully that has changed now there are some exceptionally good lymphoedema support groups, including our own lymphoedema support group.

Treatment for some cancers may lead to lymphoedema

Cancer treatments may cause Lymphoedema

Surgery

If the surgeon removes lymph nodes.

The future is hopeful that new surgical techniques will reduce or prevent the incidences of lymphoedema.

A team of specialists are involved in your treatment in my case it was a Breast Surgeon, Radiologist, Pathologist, Oncologist and Breast Care nurses. Each cancer will have its own specialist team.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy is used to treat cancer in the lymph nodes or an area where there are lymph nodes.

Radiotherapy can damage the body's lymphatic system.

 

To reduce your risk maintain good skincare, a healthy lifestyle and #getmoving.

Combination

A combination of treatments. 

Your cancer team will discuss with you the best options, and this may be a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and cancer medication.

Surgery and radiation therapy treats the cancer that is confined to one area, while the cancer drugs kill the cancer cells that may have spread to distant sites.

Good News

Not everyone who has cancer treatment will develop lymphoedema.

However, always when you have had any form of cancer treatment check for any unusual swelling.

Keep your skin in good condition, follow a healthy lifestyle and #getmoving

Lowering your risk of lymphoedema

Skincare

Check daily for skin changes (peau d'orange or orange peel skin.

It is essential to keep your skin in good condition.  Wash your skin everyday.

Moisturise and protect your skin from drying out. 

 

Check and protect your skin from scratches and grazes.

Clothes and jewellery should not leave indentations.

Get moving

The lymphatic system does not have its own pump to move lymph fluid you must keep moving.

Movement and exercise has a positive affect on lymphoedema swelling, improves mental health improves our lymphatic health therefore, improving our overall health and wellbeing.

Weight Control

Maintain a healthy weight.

We know that carrying too much weight puts a strain on our organs and it also puts a strain on our lymphatic system.

 

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle not only reduces the risk of developing lymphoedema, but it helps with the management if you live with this condition.

Invasive Procedures

Caution is advised to your affected limb of any invasive procedures. 

  • No invasive procedures to the affected area

  • No blood pressure readings/blood tests, injections, IVS

Wherever possible use the opposite side to your treatment.

Management and Treatment of Lymphoedema

Faint Glow
MLD Manual Lymphatic Drainage

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is an advanced therapy in which the practitioner uses a range of specialised and gentle rhythmic pumping techniques to move the skin in the direction of lymph flow.

This stimulates the lymphatic vessels which carry substances vital to the defence of the body and removes waste products.

Simple Lymphatic Drainage SLD

Simple Lymphatic Drainage (SLD)

Simple Lymphatic Drainage (SLD) is part of your selfcare routine.  Ask your Nurse Practitioner/Therapist to show you how you can do SLD at home.  This massage is based on the more complex techniques oh MLD and takes about 20 minutes. Try to perform SLD at the same time every day so that your lymphatic system is stimulated regularly.  You can carry out the massage with or without wearing your hosiery on your affected limb.

Foot compression

When you see your nurse practitioner/therapist for the first time your affected limb will be measured for compression hosiery which will help you maintain your swelling.  This works by putting pressure on the tissues to stop the build-up of fluid and helps the fluid drain from your affected limb.

Compression Pump

Compression Pumps

Compression Pumps 'squeeze' a swollen limb in a sleeve or boot which inflates and deflates at regular intervals.  Lymph can be moved from the limb quite quickly but it may collect in the trunk of the body causing discomfort.  Lymph may also return to the limb when the pump is removed.  However, a pump may help to soften the tissues of the limb and for this reason your therapist would recommend usage.  New style compression pumps can mimic MLD.

DOT Deep Oscillation Therapy

Deep Oscillation

DOT is a patented electrostatic lymphatic massage therapy and clinically proven. The DOT Personal Unit is treatment that is delivered through light vinyl gloves or via special applicators when self-treating.  This enables the user in self-management to reduce swelling, pain and can give a feeling of wellbeing.   

The DOT can reduce pain, help with fibrosis, and scar tissue.  The treatment is gentle, and the relaxing vibrations can penetrate to a depth of 8 cm this includes all tissue layers including the connective tissue.

 

From time to time, we conduct  polls on our support group asking our members questions about their lymphoedema.  Sadly, there is never a big response.  On this poll I asked members who had cancer related lymphoedema Where was their lymphoedema situated?  One hundred and thirty-six members took part, and this is how the answered.

  • Arms - 59 votes

  • Legs -31 votes

  • Breast 28 - votes

  • Trunk/Torso - 16 Votes

  • Genital - 5 votes

These results are simplification as this was a multiple-choice question and those members that took part in the poll stated that they may have arms/breast/trunk lymphoedema while those with leg lymphoedema may also have legs/genital/trunk lymphoedema.  No simple answer.  Interestingly no one ticked the head and neck box.  I have also asked any member with head and neck lymphoedema whether they would talk to me or write and article for our community and there was no response.

The respondents to this poll where all female