Breast Cancer Related Lymphoedema (BCRL) is one of the most dreaded side effects post breast surgery and radiation therapy. It is a chronic condition and in addition to the manifestation of the physical effects there are also psychological and economic effects.
Those who are experiencing the symptoms of lymphedema which include heaviness, numbness, swelling of the hand, fore-arm, upper arm, sometimes chest and trunk should always remember that depending on the stage and treatment the symptoms may subside and never recur OR may recur from time to time.
It is therefore important to be aware of any abnormal symptoms and once these occur to seek medical advice to confirm a lymphoedema diagnosis. Once the diagnosis of lymphoedema is confirmed the treatment plan may vary according to the stage of lymphoedema.
The following treatment plans may be recommended for someone diagnosed with lymphoedema:
- Manual lymph drainage (gentle massage technique) to stimulate lymphatic system
- Multi-layered compression bandaging or compression garment to reduce swelling
- Exercise to stimulate compromised lymphatic system
- Skin care to protect skin from infection
If detected early , the risk of developing to stage 2 and 3 may be reduced. If diagnosed with stage 2 & 3 it may become a challenge to adhere to the treatment plan. HOWEVER it is important to remember that Lymphoedema is a chronic condition and therefore managing the risk factors or symptoms have to become part of breast cancer survivors’ lifestyle.
Finally, if latent or visible symptoms of Lymphoedema manifest go to the breast clinic, community health center or medical facility so that a trained lymphoedema therapist or health practitioner can develop an appropriate treatment plan
Compiled by: Colleen Marco, Lymphoedema Therapist