Lymphedema after Breast Cancer

Thousands of men and women are diagnosed and treated for breast cancer every year. We know the numbers are a massive difference when we look at the break down between the two, however treatments are very similar. Most breast cancer survivors are able to continue on with life after treatment or surgery. Others are left with a daily reminder of one huge obstacle they were able to overcome, but now faced with a bigger challenge ahead.

Women

In 2016, it is estimated that among U.S. women there will be:

  • 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer (This includes new cases of primary breast cancer among survivors, but not recurrence of original breast cancer among survivors.)
  • 61,000 new cases of in situ breast cancer (This includes ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS). Of those, about 83 percent will be DCIS. DCIS is a non-invasive breast cancer and LCIS is a condition that increases the risk of invasive breast cancer.
  • 40,450 breast cancer deaths

Men

Breast cancer in men is rare, but it does happen. In 2016, it is estimated that among men in the U.S. there will be:

  • 2,600 new cases of (This includes new cases of primary breast cancer among survivors, but not recurrence of original breast cancer among survivors.)
  • 440 breast cancer deaths

When you are talking about just one year and country alone, these numbers are shocking! What is even more shocking is that 40% of ALL breast cancer survivors will develop lymphedema. At this rate 123,064 women will develop secondary lymphedema and 1,040 men just from the 2016 breast cancer cases. Lymphedema is increased swelling in an extremity due to damaged lymph nodes. Typically the extremity that would be affected in a breast cancer case would be the upper extremities, arms and hands. Some of the reasons are due to Chemotherapy and or Radiation for cancer treatment. When surgery is done for breast cancer, it is more common than not for lymph nodes to be biopsied to see if cancer has spread to them. If there is cancer in the nodes, this can impact prognosis and alter treatment or removal of lymph nodes. The more lymph nodes removed, the greater the risk of lymphedema.

Lymphedema can occur immediately, or over time and can be so mild as to be hardly noticeable or so severe that it is painful and disfiguring. The goal would be to catch it in its early stages so the extremity can be maintained and not cause permanent damage to the body. Since the lymphatic system is part of the immune system, its job is to protect against bacteria, viruses, fungi and even cancer. The lymphatic system includes the spleen, thymus, lymph nodes and lymph channels, as well as your tonsils and adenoids. A normal functioning lymphatic system is critical to our health. Although at this time there is no cure for lymphedema, it can be managed with complete decongestive therapy (CDT) by a certified lymphedema specialists and suggested compression garments. Education, awareness and knowledge are crucial when it comes to treating breast cancer, as it can leave you with a secondary situation such as lymphedema.

To learn more about breast cancer related lymphedema, please watch the latest CBS News story on Academy Award winner, Kathy Bates and how she is now a voice for lymphedema around the world.  I am honored to share this platform with her through the Lymphatic Education and Research Network as we continue to build momentum for the 140+ Million individuals around the world that are affected by all types of Lymphedema and Lymphatic related conditions.

Live to Inspire,

Amy

 

Additional Resources for Lymphedema at: Amy Santiago’s Website

Source Used for Breast Cancer Statistics: Susan G. Komen

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