Lymphedema: what it is and how to manage its symptoms.
Did you know that World Lymphedema Day was celebrated on March 6th? Perhaps this term is unfamiliar to you, and right now, you are probably wondering: what is lymphedema? Why is there a day dedicated to its awareness?
Trying to give visibility to the side effects of cancer and its treatment, today we will talk about a condition suffered by 1 in 7 cancer patients.
¿What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema reflects fluid accumulation in the tissues due to damage or dysfunction in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a set of tissues and organs constituting a liquid transport network, being this liquid the lymph. Lymph is a transparent liquid produced by excess fluid from the blood capillaries, which contain white blood cells that help us fight against foreign substances or infectious agents.
The lymph travels through the vessels, which have a series of valves that prevent the fluid from returning. If any of these vessels are blocked, this fluid accumulates, causing progressive swelling and chronic inflammation of the affected regions.
Its main symptoms are swelling in the arms or legs, a feeling of heaviness, weakness or decreased flexibility, and hardening and thickening of the skin (fibrosis).
There are two types of lymphedemas, classified according to their cause of origin:
- Primary lymphedema: a result of mutations in genes involved in the development of lymphatic vessels, their structure or function.
- Secondary lymphedema: due to chronic or acute infections, trauma, chronic venous hypertension, or caused by cancer treatment, metastasis, or direct invasion of an active tumour into the lymphatic system.
Cancer treatments such as surgery or radiotherapy can damage the lymphatic system. Removing lymph nodes to determine the extent of the disease can block lymphatic flow. However, the increasingly widespread procedure of sentinel node biopsy versus more extensive node dissections and the use of focused radiotherapy contributes to decreasing the occurrence of lymphedema in cancer patients.
How to manage lymphedema symptoms
Currently, there are no pharmacological treatments for lymphedema. Please consult your oncologist if you suffer or think you may suffer from lymphedema.
Here you can find some techniques specialised therapists can offer to promote the drainage of accumulated lymph in the extremities:
- Arm or leg muscle exercises help move excess fluid.
- Manual lymphatic drainage: massage with very light pressure to displace trapped fluid.
- Compression bandages: they wrap the entire extremity allowing the fluid to flow to the rest of the body.
- Compression garments: elastic sleeves or stockings placed over the extremities with appropriate pressure indicated by a healthcare professional.
- Intermittent pneumatic compression: it consists of a sleeve placed over the affected arm or leg and connected to a pump that intermittently inflates it.
In some cases, surgical treatments such as lymphatic bypass or liposuction can be applied.
At Prospera Biotech, we are committed to improving cancer patients’ quality of life. We seek to give visibility and solutions to side effects, which can become more painful and uncomfortable than the disease.
For this reason, our team has developed Oncapsisens, a cream that helps to improve skin discomfort in cancer patients. Most patients claim to have experienced improvement after its use. ¿Do you want to know more about it?
Keywords: Lymphedema; side effects; cancer; lymphatic system; radiotherapy; swelling
- Rockson, S. G., Keeley, V., Kilbreath, S., Szuba, A., & Towers, A. (2019). Cancer-associated secondary lymphoedema. In Nature Reviews Disease Primers (Vol. 5, Issue 1). Nature Publishing Group. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41572-019-0072-5
- Mayo Clinic (24 November 2022). Lymphedema. Diagnosis and treatment. https://www.mayoclinic.org/es-es/diseases-conditions/lymphedema/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20374687
- Mayo Clinic (24 November 2022). Lymphedema. Symptoms and causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/es-es/diseases-conditions/lymphedema/symptoms-causes/syc-20374682