Cancer is a tough diagnosis to treat, and sometimes when it’s over, you’re still not done. During treatment for some cancers, lymph nodes are removed or destroyed. It can cause a condition called lymphedema.

“It’s a swelling that does not go away. It’s not like a regular edema that comes and goes; it’s a swelling that starts and then doesn’t go away again,” says Jackie Speas, lymphedema therapist with Lee Memorial Health System.

What happens is lymphatic fluid, which includes water and protein molecules, starts to accumulate with fewer lymph nodes to accommodate it.

“It takes a number of years for it to progress. If they notice they’re having swelling they need to get it addressed right away because it’s much easier to treat in the earlier stages,” says Speas.

Managing lymphedema becomes a control issue. Using a combination of massage techniques and tightly wrapping the affected area, patients are taught how to keep the fluid moving and prevent it from bloating.

“We do the massage technique, the manual lymph drainage, because that helps gets the fluid moving out of the extremity. Then we bandage it and then we have them do an exercise program,” says Speas.

Lymphedema is frequently linked to breast cancer.

“There can be a lot of damage because there’s lack of lymph nodes and they can end up with some swelling in the arm,” says Pat Curr, physical therapist with Lee Memorial Health System.

In patients who have progressed to full-blown lymphedema, wrapping and compressing the affected limb restricts the ability to swell.

“Some people feel that because they’ve survived the cancer and they had the surgery, that they have to live with these limitations. And they really don’t,” says Curr.

Keeping lymphedema under wraps is helping cancer patients move forward in life.

View More Health Matters video segments at leememorial.org/healthmatters/

Lee Memorial Health System in Fort Myers, FL is the largest network of medical care facilities in Southwest Florida and is highly respected for its expertise, innovation and quality of care. For nearly a century, we’ve been providing our community with everything from primary care treatment to highly specialized care services and robotic assisted surgeries.

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