Lymphedema is a common side effect that may affect a cancer survivor months or even years after treatments such as surgery or radiation therapy. Here are some tips to help manage lymphedema.
Lymphedema is a common side effect that may affect a cancer survivor months or even years after treatments such as surgery or radiation therapy. As part of the circulatory system, the lymph organs play many roles in the body including fluid balance and immunity.
Lymph fluid is a lipid- and protein-rich fluid found within the lymphatic system that contains white blood cells and helps remove waste. When lymph nodes don’t filter and drain lymph fluid appropriately, the fluid will accumulate and lead to fluid retention and abnormal swelling around the extremities. Lymphedema can also affect other body parts such as the face, neck and abdomen.
Some typical signs and symptoms of lymphedema include a tight or heavy feeling in your arms or legs, limited range of motion from swelling in extremities, pain or discomfort and hardening of skin.
There is no specific medical nutrition therapy to cure lymphedema, but here are some tips to help manage symptoms, and possibly prevent lymphedema onset.
In addition to good nutrition and exercise, there are many other strategies like compression therapy, massage therapy and proper skin care that can aid in the treatment of lymphedema. Talk to your doctor first if you would like to explore these options.
Simone Gampel, RD, CDE, is a Registered Dietitian with Summit Medical Group in Berkeley Heights, NJ. She has worked in private practice, home care and large university hospitals. She currently works with diabetic, bariatric, gastric and surgical oncology patients.