An era of improved physical care for women with breast cancer is finally at our doorstep. An international study by Hayes et al in 2012 showed that women who undergo breast cancer treatment may suffer from weakness, stiffness, numbness, tingling, pain, poor range of motion, and /or swelling for years after treatment ends. This can affect “QOL”, or Quality of Life, as it can change not only how the woman uses her arm, but also how she feels about herself and how she participates in society, particularly return to work. Six years after diagnosis, more than 50% of breast cancer survivors complained of one of the symptoms noted above.
Lymphedema is a swelling that can occur in the arm and/or chest after removal of lymph nodes. The incidence of lymphedema ranges widely, from 6%-80% depending on what treatment the women underwent and how swelling was measured. At this time there is no cure for lymphedema, but the study pointed out that early detection, regular screenings with a lymphedema therapist, and early treatment by the therapist can help reduce the risk of lymphedema.
Physical therapists with special training in oncology and lymphedema can play a vital part in helping these women feel better. Correction of posture, improving shoulder and trunk range of motion, educating women on return to exercise, lymphedema risk factors, and the importance of regular screening can help detect and possibly reduce the risk not only of lymphedema but also of shoulder pain and dysfunction.
If you have breast cancer, were treated for breast cancer in the past, or know someone who has been affected by breast cancer, share this information with them. Education is power. For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 952.922.0330 for an appointment.