Reducing Lymphedema Risk Through Physical Therapy

Breast cancer patients could benefit from rapid intervention

One of the more complicated and troubling side effects of surgery for breast cancer is lymphedema—a condition that can result from the removal of neighboring lymph nodes to determine the spread of cancer, if any.

Removal of lymph nodes puts patients at higher risk for developing lymphedema – a condition in which a blockage in the lymphatic system causes swelling. This chronic condition develops in about 30 percent of breast cancer survivors because there are fewer lymph nodes in the area to help move lymphatic fluid through the region. In breast cancer patients, it can cause painful and potentially debilitating swelling in the arm and hand on the side where the lymph nodes were removed.

And while physical therapy after breast cancer has numerous positive effects, one of them is believed to be the reduction of lymphedema risk.

“[Physical therapy] is basically to allow patients to return to the function they had prior to their surgery and their diagnosis. We want to get them moving. We want to make sure they understand what their limitations are and what the precautions are and how to understand what’s normal and what’s not normal in terms of what they feel,” she says.

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