Many people are aware that after removal of lymph nodes during breast cancer surgery patients are at risk for lymphedema in their affected arm. But did you know that you can get swelling in your breast and in the side of your chest wall too?
How Lymphedema Develops
The axillary lymph nodes drain the arm and half of your chest wall from under your collarbone to your sternum to your belly button – front and back. For example, the right arm and right chest wall (i.e. trunk and breast) drain to the right axillary lymph nodes. With removal of, or damage to, those axillary lymph nodes, the right arm, breast, and chest wall can swell.
When the drainage system is disrupted – by damage to lymph vessels or removal of lymph nodes – then the fluid that drains to those nodes can back up, kind of like a clogged sink. In fact, as many as 49% of patients who have a lumpectomy and radiation can get breast lymphedema.
Risk for arm lymphedema varies widely depending on a variety of factors, including:
- The number of lymph nodes removed
- Whether or not the patient has radiation
- Where they are irradiated
- How lymphedema is measured and defined
After axillary lymph node dissection, the incidence of lymphedema ranges from 11-57%. After sentinel lymph node biopsy, the incidence of lymphedema ranges from 0-23%.
Lymphedema Physical Therapy
A Certified Lymphedema Therapist can educate you about lymphedema, and teach you how to reduce your risk of lymphedema. Knowledge is power, and it is my belief that everyone who has had lymph nodes removed should receive education regarding lymphedema risk and treatment.
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