Preventing Lymphedema, One Patient at a Time

Advances in medical care could stop patients from developing lymphedema, swelling in the limbs that can result when lymph nodes are removed during cancer surgery. Two recent articles about lymphedema feature MSK health care professionals discussing ways to prevent it through surgical practices and physical therapy.

In 2014, the American Society of Clinical Oncology updated its guidelines. Now it recommends not removing sentinel lymph nodes in patients with early-stage breast cancer if cancer is in only one or two nodes. In a Reuters article, MSK’s Dr. Monica Morrow explains that if cancer has spread to these nodes, it will be targeted by the radiation, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy that is the post-surgical standard of care.

Even when lymph node removal is necessary, precautions can lower a patient’s lymphedema risk. A U.S. News and World Report article features MSK physical therapist Ms. Debbie Mattera. While working with patients to regain range of motion, she educates them on how to reduce their lymphedema risk by avoiding injury and sunburn, exercising slowly, and reporting any swelling to their doctors. She recommends patients seek out a physical therapist with experience working with cancer survivors.