How Dangerous Is Lymphedema?
What is the Lymphatic System? Our bodies have a network of lymph nodes and lymph vessels. This system collects and carries a watery, clear lymph fluid, much like how veins collect blood from distant parts of the body and carry it back to the heart. This fluid consists of proteins, salts, and water, as well as white blood cells, which help fight infection. What Is Lymphedema? Lymphedema is most commonly caused by the removal of, or damage to, your lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatments. It results from a blockage in your lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system. The blockage prevents lymph fluid from draining well, and the fluid buildup leads to swelling. According to the National Cancer Institute, anywhere from 5-17% of women who have sentinel lymph node biopsy develop lymphedema. Among women who have axillary lymph node dissection, the percentage is higher — from 20-53% — and the risk increases with the number of nodes taken out. Not surprisingly the risk is even higher if you receive radiation to the breast, chest, and under the arm area.
Lymphedema is the build up of lymph fluid within the lymphatic system. The buildup can be caused by a number of factors which we will get into below. Lymphedema can occur in the limbs and extremity such as the arms and legs. As it relates to breast cancer, the most common occurrence of lymphedema occurs in the arm, chest, or back. Lymphedema is something that can be managed so you never get it, or, it is something you manage on a continual basis to avoid flareups and progression as there is no cure for lymphedema. Although there is no official cure, there are plenty of beneficial treatment plans that help mitigate side effects.