Oncology Rehab and Wellness follows the standard of care in lymphedema therapy-the Prospective Surveillance Model. Early detection of the onset of lymphedema is critical to effective management - and if detected early enough, the condition can potentially be reversed. Early detetction of lymphedema is critical to the most effective treatment and long term management.
What is lymphedema?
The lymphatic system plays a critical role in the maintenance of fluid balance in the body. It absorbs the fluid that normally collects in the tissues throughout the body and returns the fluid back into the circulatory system. Changes in the lymphatic system may cause a “back-up” of fluid in the system, leading to fluid collection in the tissues. This type of fluid collection is swelling or lymphedema. Lymphedema can occur anywhere in the body where there has been a change in the normal lymphatic flow, including the hand, arm, chest wall, breast, back, neck/face.
Lymphedema and Cancer
Lymphedema occurs in a small number of patients following treatment for cancer. It can be caused when the lymphatic vessels are damaged or cut during surgery or from scarring of the lymphatic channels during healing or radiation therapy.
- It is important to note that lymphedema may occur soon after therapy for cancer treatment or not until many years later and sometimes swelling occurs immediately after lymph node dissection.
Are patients treated for cancers other than breast cancer at risk for lymphedema?
Yes. While it seems that lymphedema is most commonly related to breast cancer treatment, it is important to know that lymphedema can occur in patients following treatment for any cancer. Sometimes swelling of the arm, leg, neck, trunk, face/head can occur after axillary (arm pit) node dissection and swelling of the legs, abdomen can happen after inguinal (groin) lymph node dissection, surgery or radiation treatment. Lymphedema can also occur in any part of the body after radiation treatment, including the head, face and neck. It is imperative to know that early detection and treatment are imperative for the best long-term management of the condition.
When Should I Be Seen By a Lymphedema Therapist?
Before cancer surgery or radiation in order to complete pre-treatment baseline volumetric measures of any extremity that is anticipated to be affected.
*Therefore, it is imperative to be seen prior to any breast surgery, pelvic surgery, groin surgery, lymph node biopsy/dissection or even radiation treatments. By having pre-treatment measures, follow up measurements after surgery can detect even small changes that may indicate the onset of lymphedema.
After surgery or radiation to take post-treatment volumetric measures of the potentially affected extremity to assess if any post-treatment changes in volume.
* Early signs of the onset of lymphedema are undetectable without precise measurements and if not detected early, the condition can become life long and more difficult to manage.
At regularly scheduled intervals if you are at risk for the development of lymphedema to monitor for the possible onset or subclinical signs of edema accumulation.
* This is typically every 3 months for a year followed by every 6 months for a total of 1.5 years.
What Are Some of the Signs and Symptoms of Lymphedema?
The most common symptom of lymphedema is the appearance of swelling in a body region
that has been affected by surgery, lymph node removal and/or radiation therapy.
Some other common signs and symptoms of possible lymphedema are:
- Feeling of tightness in the affected area
- Aching or heaviness in the arm or leg
- Rings or shoes become tight
- Clothing seems tight in the affected limb/area
- Redness in the limb/affected area
- Feeling of weakness in the arm or leg
- Restricted range of motion
- Recurring infections
- Hardening and thickening of the skin (fibrosis)
What Treatment Is Available?
If you have swelling that is persistent and does not seem to resolve, then seeing a therapist trained in treating lymphedema is crucial for your recovery. There are effective, time-efficient treatments available to help you. The best treatment programs use exercise, manual lymphatic drainage (a special massage technique), skin care and compression bandages and compression garments as part of the treatment plan to reduce swelling. The compression bandages and garments provide therapeutic pressure that helps to resolve or minimize the swelling. Your lymphedema therapist will also teach you/your family ways to independently manage your lymphedema to best improve your outcomes.
Oncology Rehab and Wellness’ services cover the full continuum of lymphedema care from consultation/evaluation and treatment to lifelong follow-up as needed. Our CLT is experienced compression garment fitting and can fit for custom or off the shelf garments for upper and lower extremities, trunk, breast and neck.
Our Lymphedema Therapy Treatment
Our treatment approach includes:
- Manual lymph drainage
- Compression bandaging
- Lymphedema exercises
- Education on safe progression of your exercise program or return to recreational activities
- Garment fitting (custom or non-custom)
- Kinesio Taping for lymphatic flow and edema management
- Patient and caregiver education
- Patient and caregiver training in self treatment to enable long term, independent management of the condition.
- Coordination with medical supply companies for pneumatic compression pump devices, supplies and garments as needed
Need more information about a Physical Therapists role in the treatment of lymphedema? Check out the American Physical Therapy Association Fact Sheet here:
Or Call Us Today to talk with our Certified Lymphedema Therapist