Medical ID jewelry isn’t something that often comes up in conversations about breast cancer, but the truth is, it really should be. The reason? Lymphedema.
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is the swelling of limbs caused by the inability to drain lymph fluid. Lymph fluid is an essential component in your body’s lymphatic system, which works to detoxify the body. Its ability to flow freely through the lymphatic system is integral in the body’s ability to fight infections. Lymphedema can vary in its severity. While it may be mild in some cases, in others the swelling may be so severe as to significantly impair the function of a limb and require surgical intervention.
While lymphedema can be primary, meaning it occurs on its own, it is more often secondary, meaning it is caused by a separate primary condition.
With breast cancer as the primary condition, secondary lymphedema may develop in one of a few ways:
- Surgery: During breast cancer surgery, it is common for one or more lymph nodes to be cut or removed. This requires the remaining lymph nodes and vessels to work overtime to compensate, a situation made more difficult when multiple lymph nodes are impacted during surgery. If the remaining lymph nodes cannot keep up, lymphedema can result.
- Blockage: Breast cancer sometimes forms in such a way that it blocks the flow of lymph fluid, causing lymphedema.
- Radiation: Sometimes, radiation is used as part of breast cancer treatment. One of the risks is the potential for inflammation and/or scarring of the lymph nodes and vessels, which can restrict fluid flow and result in lymphedema.
How Can I Prevent Lymphedema?
There are some steps we can all take to reduce our risk of developing this painful condition:
- Be vigilant about early detection. By catching breast cancer as early as possible, in addition to greatly improving your chances of a full recovery, you also reduce the risk of a tumor creating a lymphatic blockage and lymphedema.
- If you are at risk for developing lymphedema after radiation or a mastectomy, protect your affected limb. Injuries, even minor ones such as small cuts or burns, can provide opportunities for infections to take hold, and this can be the point of onset of lymphedema.
- Refrain from using heating pads or wearing tight clothing on your affected arm.
- Wash your hands frequently, keeping your nails and skin healthy to prevent cracks or cuts that could invite infection.
- Avoid medical procedures on your affected arm. Have your blood drawn, pressure taken, IVs placed, and shots administered on your other arm if it is at all possible. In the event you are unable to advocate for yourself, wearing a lymphedema alert medical ID bracelet on your affected arm is a simple way you can protect yourself. Check out this sample of what to engrave on your lymphedema alert medical ID bracelet (above).
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As Director of Sales, Marketing, and Business Development for Lauren’s Hope, Tara Cohen is often the voice of Lauren’s Hope. Whether she’s writing the Lauren’s Hope blog, crafting a marketing email, or describing a new product, Cohen brings a little personal touch to everything she creates.
Part of the LH team since 2012, Cohen has spent years learning about various medical conditions and what engravings are most helpful for each.
In addition to her years of experience at Lauren’s Hope and all of the research she puts into writing for LH, Cohen draws on her own life experiences to bring a human touch to the LH blog.