Treating lymphedema in breast cancer survivors

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October is “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”

Some survivors may experience a painful swelling of their arm or hand after treatment. The condition is called lymphedema – and it could be treated effectively if detected early.

Women were often diagnosed with lymphedema using a tape measure.

However, recent research shows a device which uses low-level electrical currents is much more effective.
Dr. Chirag Shah, with Cleveland Clinic, says the device does a better job with early detection, making the condition easier to treat.

When it comes to treatment, it varies based on the severity.

In some cases, a woman may be given a compression garment to wear to help with swelling.
Physical therapy and surgery may also be necessary.

“I think it depends typically on when we catch lymphedema. So if we catch lymphedema later in the process, it’s often felt to be irreversible if there is a significant volume increase and a lot of chronic changes have set in. But if it is caught early, there is data, including data from the prevent trial, showing that, yeah, women are not progressing to chronic lymphedema and they’re actually having that
resolved,” said Shah.

He says his take home message for those who underwent treatment for breast cancer is to be proactive about their risk for lymphedema and talk to their physician about any concerns.