Many people will have lymph nodes removed during breast cancer surgeries. The lymph nodes will collect and push cancer cell through the lymphatic system. Surgeons will remove some of the nodes to prevent the cancer cells from spreading throughout the body. The lymphatic system is the bodies biological waist removal system. Each cell in the body uses energy and then spits out the used molecule, proteins, and other items. The function of the lymph node is to collect, store, or destroy items that arrives from the lymphatic vessels.
When the lymph nodes are removed, the biological waist will collect into the limb that was effected by the cancer. For breast cancer patients, it is very common for the arm or the chest to collected the excess fluid. The arm with lymph nodes removed can become distorted and much larger then the other arm. Once the arm is noticeable larger, it is time for professional help.
The Lymphatic Therapist is a health professional with additional training in Manual Lymphatic Therapy (MLD) and Combined Decongestive Therapy (CDT). MLD is a light massage that is designed to stimulate the lymphatic system. The therapist will redirect the excess fluid to a healthly reagan with plenty of lymph nodes to handle the extra stress. After the massage, the arm will be bandages with a series of short-streatch bandages. The bandages are designed to create gradient pressure and prevent gravity from bringing the fluid back into the arm. Therapy is typically three to four weeks long and the therapist will educate the patient on prevention, exercise, compression sleeves, and self massage.
Some therapist do not perform MLD and use a lymphedema pump. There are two types of pumps that a patient can use at home. The one of lymphedema pumps that is simply referred to as “The Pump”. There is much debate over the use of the pump. There are many therapist that believe the pump leads to long term adverse reactions such as fibrosis. Fibrosis is a hardening of the lymphatic fluid and the softer fluid can not move past the fibrosis which leads to more congestion and swelling. Another popular lymphedema pump is called the Flexitouch. It is a machine that is favored by many therapist because it can redirect the fluid into a health body region. Another difference between the pump and the Flexitouch is the ability to treat the chest. A person with lymphedema does not want to push the fluid around to get trapped into a different part of the body. By treating the chest and the stomach, and the upper thigh, the fluid will be processed out of the body. The pump is not able to treat the chest and the upper thigh. The other conflict with the pump is the use of high pressure and the quick pumping action. The therapist will use a soft slow movement. Once again, the Flexitouch will use soft pressure and slow movements, just like the therapist.
Most insurance companies will cover for either the pump or the Flexitouch. Each policy is different and the patient may have to pay a 20% deductible or the machine will be covered at 100%. Some insurance companies, like Medicare, will require the patient to use the pump first, before they can be cleared for the Flexitouch.
The final stage in controlling lymphedema is the compression sleeve and glove. Juzo is a very popular company with a wide range of sizes and styles. However, in America, you will not find too many patterns and colors. Where Juzo may lack in zest, they make up in therapeutic confidence. You will get a sleeve that will create the proper gradient pressure. If you want a more festive sleeve, then check out Lymph Diva. They have 100’s of styles with a soft material. Because of their stylish looks, many therapist are hesitant on recommending them as a every-day sleeve. If a person has a special event or hitting the bar for girls night out, there is no reason to over look the Lymph Diva. Juzo, Medi, Jobst, and Lymph Diva all promise the correct gradient pressure with in the expected range.
Never ignore any sign of swelling in a limb because the situation is only going to get worse. Lymphedema can appear and then disappear, but eventually the swelling will stay. By the arm getting larger, it becomes harder to reduces the limb to the proper size. There is no known cure for lymphedema, but there is a way to control the edema. Working with your doctor, your therapist, and a good home program will help keep the limb as small as possible.