What is lymphoedema?
The lymphatic system is unable to remove excess fluid due to disrupted lymphatic pathways combined with muscular inactivity. Excessive fluid in an arm or leg is seen as swelling which can become unusually large and uncomfortable if left untreated. Lymphoedema can affect any part of the body but is more common in the arms and legs.
Will I get lymphoedema if I haven't had many lymph nodes removed?
You may or may not get lymphoedema, but the more immobile and overweight you are will increase the chance of it developing. Unfortunately, LE is an unpredictable consequence of any cancer. We do know that depending on your cancer treatment and metabolic condition you may have up to 35% chance of developing it. Please note that early warning signs like pain, achiness, and heavy arm are there because the body is telling you it is in distress and with any fluid retention it is easier to move in the early stages.
What causes lymphoedema?
There is secondary lymphoedema caused by an outside influence, i.e. cancer, post-operative or an accident, and primary lymphoedema which is hereditary. The actual trigger that causes LE to suddenly start is unknown. A gradual build-up of lymph fluid occurs, and your body will adjust to this accumulation until problems may start to feel like pain, discomfort or tightness of clothing or rings.
There are many causes of secondary LE, it is most commonly associated
with post-cancer operations due
to lymph node removal.
However, one of the known causes of lymphoedema is obesity and signs and symptoms of continuous or severe fluid retention SHOULD NOT be ignored.
If you have lymphoedema why does skin stay indented when you
Unwanted fluid that stays in-between spaces of the cells and is unable to be removed by the lymphatic system undergoes a transformation. It changes from being soft tissue to tough fibrous cells, meaning it becomes strong and protective, usually found around a wound. As most patients are scared to move an injured limb this is how fluid can build up. Tissue hardening can be seen on the surface as pitting with a firm `Play-Doh` like sensation underneath the skin`s surface. The fluid only goes through this transformation when it stagnates but not if
it's kept moving.
Is current treatment
enough to stop it?
After your cancer treatment, you are provided with a standard compression garment. You are told to wear this, and this will help prevent lymphoedema. True, initially wearing this garment may assist in helping your arm from mild swelling, but it does not address other problems such as the issues of longer-term post-operative recovery. You need to use your arm naturally after the trauma of an operation because muscles that must pump the lymphatic system need to be used. Wearing the garment without any other form of exercise or treatment means the fluid that accumulates deep in the arm and within the tissues starts to harden and can become painful. Compression garments have their place and are extremely effective, but you also need to keep the muscles pumping the fluid by moving the shoulder and arm.
Can I have treatment at a really early stage?
Lymphoedema is reversible in stages 0 - 2. Then it suddenly spontaneously changes and becomes irreversible. There is a lot of empty tissue space between our cells for fluid to accumulate over a long period of time. The earlier you can get Lymphatic Pressure Therapy the quicker and speedier your lymphatic system can start working effectively which offers you a better opportunity of helping to prevent lymphoedema from
becoming a problem.