Lymphedema, or the post-treatment swelling of arm, leg, breast or chest wall, affects an estimated 15 percent of women who have a sentinel lymph node biopsy.
Yet patients are rarely informed prior to treatment about the possibility of developing this condition.
During the Q&A session of a lecture I attended in New York last month, several women asked about lymphedema relating to breast cancer. When we queried the 80 breast cancer survivors in the audience, the subject of lymphedema had only been brought up with one of them before her surgery. It occurred to me that this topic is too often skipped over in pre-treatment discussions with patients.
The precise cause of lymphedema remains a mystery, even to physicians. The current thinking now is that there is a combination of mechanical failure of the lymphatic system coupled with an increased immune response which leads to swelling of the arm, leg, or even the chest and breast itself. The swelling is very challenging to control. It can affect both women and men of any age.
Please refer to my previously published blog for more information on lymphedema causes, prevention and treatment methods.