How can you prevent lymphoedema?
Updated: Jun 24
Cancer treatment often involves surgery and/or radiation, which are both detrimental to the lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system is important to your well-being because it helps in the removal of waste that your body cells produce. The lymphatic fluid is cleansed as it eventually returns to the the heart. Try to picture your lymph nodes as power houses, which are packed to the rafters with immune cells. These cells can trap bacteria, cancer cells, metabolic waste, neutralize and remove them. You sometime hear people say that their glands, which are your lymph nodes, are up or swollen. This means that your immune system is fighting something. Cancer surgery often removes lymph nodes and radiation can damage the lymph vessels and the working of your lymphatic system is compromised. This situation can result in the lymph fluid pooling in the injured area and lymphoedema occurs.
This scenario is the reason why patients recovering from surgery and radiation are at risk of developing lymphoedema. Lymphoedema means swelling, which is insidious and chronic. It is insidious because often the swelling occurs slowly. Originally, it may not be apparent and you may feel some heaviness in your limb. Later you notice that your limb is being slightly bigger than the other. You may not worry because it often goes away at night. Unfortunately, after a period of time your limb may be chronically swollen. This is because, your skin becomes compliant and looses its elasticity, just like a sock that you have been wearing last winter.
Lymphoedema patients need to be mindful, not scared. There is a say that "awareness is the name of the game". Therefore if you have a limb at risk of developing lymphoedema it is smart to take precautions:
You may not carry heavy loads with the arm at risk. If you have an armsleeve, wear it, don't leave it home when shopping.
You may wear sunscreen to avoid sunburn.
You would avoid direct heat such as hot baths and saunas because heat dilates the blood vessels. Cold on the contrary constricts the blood vessels and increases the blood return.
You need to avoid wearing tight garments or jewelry, which may prevent a good blood circulation. You can have a bra professionally fitted.
Wearing insect repellent prevents insect bites.
Protect your limb wearing gloves, sleeves, long pants when gardening to avoid scratches and cuts. A little scratch can easily become infected.
Some of you may start an exercise program. Be mindful to begin your work-out gently, giving time for your body to adjust to it before increasing the intensity. Importantly, do not favor one limb over the other to avoid imbalance.
The thing is that life goes on. You do not stop doing what you like to do because you have a limb at risk of developing lymphoedema."Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.” ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart.
At the clinic, we do our most to empower our clients to look beyond lymphoedema and live a fulfilling life. Education is about knowing how to get a grip on the condition and manage it successfully.