Breast Cancer Related Lymphedema BCRL
Lymphedema, manifested as arm swelling after breast cancer treatment, is one of the largest and most misunderstood side effects of breast cancer treatment. The 2013 edition of Breast said it was the most common disease associated with Breast Cancer patients. It is seen in as many as 56% of those patients treated for Breast Cancer. This is a chronic condition that leads to lifelong consequences and management. The sooner this disease state is brought under control, the better off a patient is. Left unchecked, this condition results in arm swelling followed by a progressive decline in tissues from infections, inflammation, and fibrosis. Radiation and surgery seem to have a negative effect on the lymphatics. This results is essentially "varicose veins" for your lymphatics to put it simply.
The arm swelling becomes a psychosocial problem (hurting self esteem) but also becomes a very real lymphatic, immune, and rehabilitation issue. Many Breast Cancer Patients are faced with conditions that require Physical Therapy from neck pain to fibrosis that hurts range of motion at the shoulder joint. Lymphedema is treated by CLTs or Physical Therapists trained as Certified Lymphedema Therapists. Lymphedema Therapists with extensive experience undergo LANA certification "CLT-LANA" after their credential. Seeing a LANA therapist if you are undergoing Breast Cancer Treatment will allow you to experience MLD, reduce swelling, and guide you on possible Compression Garments.
Mounting research, to the point of boiling over, is calling for early surveillance and intervention to catch this condition before it takes off. MLD, Manual Lymph Drainage done by a CLT physical therapist, has been shown to essentially stop Lymphedema in its tracks and start the reversal of the swelling (Lymphology 2012.) With patients that have what is considered "Subclinical Lymphedema", trained therapists and clinicians can intervene early with Bioimpedance technology capable of detecting minute changes in arm swelling. In the earliest stages, Lymphedema is still REVERSIBLE!
Yes, so your inner voice right now should be screaming, "Why isn't every single woman undergoing Breast Cancer Treatment seeing a Certified Lymphedema Therapist prior to Breast Cancer Treatment and following up with them after Treatment if MLD and monitoring essentially prevents Lymphedema?" Well, hopefully that will be the protocol in place over time. As I do my annual Breast Cancer walk, I often wonder how many of these women know of Breast Cancer Related Lymphedema. Or, how many have it and do not know?