How Early Surveillance Significantly Reduces Lymphedema Risk

Before innovations in lymphedema therapy were made, surgeries and aftercare were the solutions to lymphedema. However, those solutions weren’t wholly effective since they ignored the conditions leading up to lymphedema. 

The most beneficial and proven method of reducing the sometimes debilitating effects of  lymphedema utilizes the Prospective Surveillance Model (PSM), which starts with monitoring you before and after cancer treatments. Seeing a Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT) before cancer surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy can significantly reduce the risk of lymphedema and minimize its symptoms.

To note, a Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT) is different from a Physical Therapist who has some knowledge about lymphedema. A CLT undergoes a rigorous training program that best qualifies them to detect and successfully treat lymphedema. Always be sure to look for this professional designation when seeking a therapist to help you with any concerns of lymphedema or lymphedema risk.

At Oncology Rehab and Wellness, our Certified Lymphedema Therapist uses the PSM as a way to monitor the subtle changes that can indicate lymphedema. Early surveillance is vital to reducing the severity of the disease, and early action does ameliorate the course of lymphedema.

How Early Surveillance Works

The Prospective Surveillance Model involves impairment identification and management at the before and after stages of cancer treatment. This model of care begins at your first assessment with a Certified Lymphedema Therapist. This happens before you have started your cancer treatments because your current health and measurements provide a baseline for monitoring any future change. Your baseline measurements and the type of upcoming cancer treatments can determine if you may be at risk for the development of lymphedema. Your CLT will maintain contact with you throughout your cancer treatments to assess your health and progress as well as to take regular repeat measurements that will enable early detection of the onset of lymphedema. Routine surveillance leads to an earlier diagnosis which can lessen your symptoms as well as enable easier management of the condition.

Tracking Symptoms

Early symptoms can start during or after cancer treatments (even years after). The dominant lymphedema symptom is observation of swelling, which happens when the lymphatic fluid builds up in an area. Other symptoms include the feeling of “heaviness”, tightness or aching in the affected area, subjective feeling of weakness in limb(s), shiny skin appearance and sometimes redness in the limb. Later symptoms can include consistent infections, darkening of the skin or hardening of the skin. Your CLT will educate you on the signs and symptoms of lymphedema onset as well as educate you on risk reduction strategies that could help to reduce the likelihood of onset.

Complete Decongestive Therapy

The lymphedema rehabilitation program at Oncology Rehab and Wellness (ORW) employs the standard of care in lymphedema treatment, known as Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT).

If you have clinical lymphedema, CDT includes education, massage therapy (manual lymph drainage), compression bandaging, exercises and fitting you for compression garments for independent long term management of the condition.  Your therapist will refine the CDT to your needs, as some patients experience certain lymphedema symptoms over others.

Other Steps to Prevent Lymphedema

While early surveillance remains the most important step to preventing lymphedema, there are other useful steps you can take to be healthier and reduce your risk of lymphedema onset. 

  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are unsure if you are at a healthy weight or need help getting to a healthy weight, work with your Physical Therapist to start a workout regimen. 
  • Eat healthy, antioxidant-rich foods. Antioxidants slow down cell damage from unstable molecules. While eating healthy does not guarantee a lymphedema-free experience, it does set your body up for lifelong success.
  • Exercise. Start with a light walk and increase movement intensity as possible. Doing a minimum of 15 minutes of exercise a day boosts your health and makes your body stronger and more ready to face cancer treatments.  Exercise/activity is also beneficial for reducing your overall risk of lymphedema.

Scheduling Your Lymphedema Appointment

We cannot understate how vital it is to start early monitoring for lymphedema. With the PSM, we can all but reverse the negative effects of lymphedema and ensure a higher quality of life. Early surveillance is a partnership between you and your lymphedema therapist to help you live a healthier post-cancer treatment life.

We would love to be that partner for you. Our passion is to restore our patients to healthier, better lives. If you would like to learn more about our lymphedema services, you can visit here
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