More than three million Americans suffer the physical and psychological effects of lymphedema, a condition that can occur when an insufficient or damaged lymph system fails to drain lymph fluid from the tissues of the body. Lymphedema can lead to severe swelling and pain in the extremities.
Approximately 35 to 40 percent of women with breast cancer will develop lymphedema following axillary node surgery or radiation therapy. Men are at risk of developing lymphedema in their legs following surgery for prostate or testicular cancer. Left untreated, the swelling can become painful and infection can become a serious risk. While no cure is currently available for lymphedema, there is hope for patients who take precautions and manage their symptoms.
The Lymphedema Program at Holy Cross Hospital aims to reduce the swelling and pain associated with lymphedema and to educate the patient to monitor, maintain, and improve his or her condition throughout his or her lifetime.
Treatment for lymphedema may include the following:
- Skin care: The patient is educated in precautions to protect the skin and avoid infection, in proper use of skin care products, and an individualized skin care program
- Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD): Manual lymphatic drainage is a specific superficial manual technique that facilitates the opening of collateral lymphatic pathways.
- Multi-layer bandaging: Bandaging consists of a technique involving three primary layers of bandages applied to the affected area to facilitate lymph flow.
- Individualized exercise program: Exercise programs are tailored to each patient to enhance lymphatic drainage and also restore strength, flexibility, endurance, and function.
- Patient education: Patients are educated about their condition, the goals and purpose of the treatment regimen, as well as life-long skin care.