Lymphedema – a life sentence
Lymphedema is the chronic swelling that generally occurs in the arms or the legs.
Lymphedema is most commonly caused by the removal of or the damage to the lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment. It results from a blockage in the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. The blockage prevents the lymphatic system from draining excess fluids, and the fluid buildup leads to swelling, infections and pain.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for lymphedema. It can be managed with early diagnosis and diligent care of the affected limb, through daily compression, bandages and manual drainage sessions. From the moment of the diagnosis, the life of lymphedema patients changes forever.
Cancer and cancer-related interventions (i.e. surgery, radiotherapy) are frequent causes of lymphedema occurring both in the upper and lower limbs. Breast cancer survivors are at high risk for developing lymphedema, as well as patients treated for melanoma, pelvic and head and neck cancer or other cancer treatments that require lymph node dissection. Physical trauma can also result in lymphedema, a major cause of lymphatic disease among wounded veterans.
Lymphedema is associated with significantly impaired quality of life, skin changes, increased risk of infection and in rare cases lymphedema itself may undergo malignant transformation.