Lymphedema treatment now available at Shannon Medical Center in San Angelo
An Ohio breast cancer patient shows how swelling from lymphedema has made her left arm larger than her right arm. (Photo: USA Today network)
Lymphedema is a condition that leads to swelling, most commonly in the limbs, and often affects cancer patients after the surgical removal or injury of lymph nodes.
After lymph nodes are removed, the lymphatic system becomes compromised and the limb from which the nodes were removed tends to be affected. For breast cancer patients, the most affected area is the arm. Not all cancer patients who have undergone a lymph node resection will develop lymphedema, but it is a common condition. It does not always develop immediately; it can occur after a period of time.
If left untreated, the affected limb can become and remain severely swollen. Lymphedema may also cause restricted range of motion in the affected area, discomfort, tightness or heaviness, and even recurring infection.
Oncology patients tend to be the most affected by lymphedema, but it may also be caused by congenital malformations or appear after other types of surgery.
Presently, there is no cure for lymphedema. However, the condition can be effectively managed with a specialized treatment program. Certified lymphedema therapists undergo intensive training to receive certification and offer these services to patients.
Initial treatment includes a four-course regimen of compression bandaging, a manual therapy technique used to drain the affected areas, skincare, and specialized exercises that target the affected limb. Therapists work patients through the course of treatment until their condition has improved and is stable. Then patients enter the maintenance phase of treatment, in which their condition is monitored and progress is sustained. During this phase, patients are typically also fitted for a compression garment they must wear on the affected limb.
Patients with long-standing venous insufficiency are also candidates for this type of therapy as they can potentially develop a form of lymphedema. Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk for developing lymphedema.
New to Shannon is the Lymphedema Program at the Shannon Outpatient Neuro Therapy Facility, which begins in October. Previously, treatment options for lymphedema patients have been limited or non-existent in San Angelo. Patients are accepted to the program through a physician referral.
For more information, call 325-659-7132.
Q & A with Dr. Ayers
Q: Are you the first certified lymphedema therapist at Shannon?
A: Yes. I’ll treat individuals with any kind of abnormal swelling that comes from cancer-related surgeries and lymph node removal. My treatment is specialized to help reduce swelling in affected limbs and body areas.
Q: What does the program entail?
A: There are four components called Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) and it involves skin care, manual lymphatic drainage, compression bandaging and exercises, such as gentle range of motion exercises.
Q: How long is a patient’s treatment plan?
A: Maybe four to eight weeks, depending on the severity.
Q: Will all patients who have undergone surgery for cancer develop lymphedema?
A: No. Not necessarily. They are definitely at risk for developing it, but its not a 100 percent guarantee they will get it.
Q: What are triggers that can put someone at risk of developing lymphedema after a surgery?
A: Bug bites, any kind of wound, sunburn, excessive activity — intense exercising or sports — and air travel, are some.
Q: Are symptoms restricted to arms and legs?
A: No. It can be anywhere: the face, neck, arms, trunks, legs and even genitals.
Q: Does lymphedema develop in both men and women?
A: Men and women are equally at risk. From a therapy standpoint, women are more prevalent as breast cancer patients. However, there are other surgeries that affect the lymphatic system.
Q: What are types of lymphedema?
A: Lymphedema can be either primary or secondary. If lymphedema results after surgery, we call it secondary lymphedema. If someone is born with, maybe, a malformation of the lymphatic system, it’s called primary lymphedema. Both are treated the same way.
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