In Part 1 we discussed the risk factors of lymphedema and tips for reducing this risk. Today we’re helping you identify early signs and what treatments are available for lymphedema.
Breast cancer-related lymphedema is abnormal swelling that can develop in the arm, hand, breast, or torso on the side treated for breast cancer where lymph nodes have been removed. Lymphedema can develop suddenly or gradually. It can happen soon after surgery or can develop months or years later.
January 4, 2010, I became a fly on the wall. I was at my surgeon’s getting results from my biopsy. It was supposed to be a quick appointment as the initial needle test of fluid prior to the biopsy was negative for cancer, or so we thought. I remember hearing the doctor telling me “unfortunately it was cancer….” I felt like I was having an out of body experience. I was there but literally watching over my body and the doctor from a distance. My world suddenly changed both physically and mentally.
Wendie Hayes of Stoney Creek Mountain, Ontario was diagnosed in 2011 with triple negative metaplastic phyllodes breast cancer at the age of 55 after she discovered a lump in her left breast. Her cancer is a rare type, affecting less than one percent of breast cancer patients, so it took some time to get the right diagnosis.
If you have had surgery for breast cancer, you are at risk for lymphedema, a chronic swelling of the arm or another body part due to build-up of fluid. (This fluid, known as lymph, transports white blood cells and cellular debris throughout the body.) Removal of lymph nodes under the arm during breast cancer surgery or radiation therapy can cause a blockage in the lymphatic system, which causes lymphedema. It can develop shortly after your surgery or many years later.
When Kim Bulpitt was diagnosed in March 2016 at age 53 with breast cancer, it wasn’t her first experience with serious illness. The Kitchener, Ontario resident was previously diagnosed in 1979 with kidney disease, in 2008 with Parkinson’s disease, and in 2012 with osteoarthritis resulting in replacement of both knees in 2014.