Breast Cancer - Lymphedema in the U.S.

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Breast Cancer - Lymphedema in the U.S.

Postby patoco » Sat Jan 06, 2007 1:14 am

Breast Cancer - Lymphedema in the U.S.


POSTED: 11:42 am EST January 4, 2007

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in American women. This year, the American Cancer Society estimates 212,290 cases of invasive female breast cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. In addition, about 61,980 cases of carcinoma in situ (the very earliest form of breast cancer) will be diagnosed.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for women. In 2006, about 40,970 women will die from the disease.

The Lymph System

The lymphatic system is a network of vessels that are distributed throughout the body. The vessels are connected to small, bean-shaped nodules, called lymph nodes that are clustered throughout the body in areas like the neck, armpits and groin.

The lymphatic vessels carry a fluid, called lymph, that's made up of fat and protein-rich fluid from the intestines, some red blood cells and many white blood cells. The lymph fluid is moved through the network when a person breathes or muscles contract. It flows into much tinier vessels, called lymph capillaries, where gases, water and nutrients within the fluid can pass into the cells. At the same time, waste products and excess lymph fluid are collected for eventual return to the bloodstream. The fluid passes through the lymph nodes, where specialized immune cells filter out bacteria and other foreign cells. If bacteria are detected in the lymph nodes, the nodes enlarge and produce extra white blood cells to fight the infection. Once the fluid leaves the lymph nodes, it returns to the circulatory system through the veins.

Breast Cancer and Lymphedema

Lymphedema is a condition in which lymph fluid backs up into the spaces between the tissues. In breast cancer patients, removal or damage to the lymph nodes during surgery can disrupt the drainage of lymph fluid. Radiation therapy to the breast or underarm area can also damage the lymphatic network. The affected areas of the lymph system may not be able to remove fluid as quickly as needed, causing the lymph to back-up into the spaces in the tissues. Patients may experience swelling, tightness of the skin, a sensation of arm heaviness or fullness, pain, loss of mobility, problems getting the arm into clothing sleeves or tightness of watches or rings (even though the patient hasn't gained any appreciable weight). In addition, the stagnant, protein-rich lymph fluid makes an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

Research suggests lymphedema occurs in as many as 25 percent of breast cancer patients who have undergone surgery. For patients who have also had radiation treatment, the rates may be as high as 38 percent. Obese breast cancer patients have twice the risk as normal-weight patients of developing the condition. Lack of aerobic exercise, wearing of tight or constrictive clothing, exposure to heat (even hot baths or showers), excessive exercise and air travel of two hours or more (due to reduced cabin pressure) also increase the risk of lymphedema. Experts say the condition can occur at any time - even many years after surgery.

Treating Lymphedema

Once lymphedema occurs, the condition can't be totally eliminated. However, it can be managed by keeping symptoms under control. Proper skin care and appropriate levels of exercise can help keep lymph flowing and prevent a back-up of fluid.

Compression garments are special elastic knit sleeves that are worn throughout the day to facilitate drainage of lymph fluid. They are generally designed to be worn for most of the day and are composed of two parts - a sleeve and a glove, or hand garment. The compression sleeve generally covers the entire arm, from the wrist to the shoulder. They are tighter at the wrist and a little looser fitting at the shoulder. That provides a little more pressure at the end of the arm to push the fluid up. The glove provides compression to move fluid from the hand back up through the arm.


Breast cancer patients may face a considerable amount of emotional upheaval and distress. Many have concerns about their physical appearance after mastectomy. If they develop lymphedema, the swelling, pain and loss of motion can add to the emotional toll. Traditional compression garments may make some women feel more conspicuous.

Robin Miller and Rachel Levin are breast cancer survivors who have faced lymphedema and wanted to improve the ability of women to cope with the condition. They joined with fashion designer, Kristin Dudley, to form a new start-up company, called LympheDIVAs™. Consultation with other patients and medical experts led to the design and production of a new line of compression garments.

Unlike standard compression garments for arm lymphedema, the new sleeves and gloves are made of high-tech fibers that are capable of stretching over 360 degrees for easier bending of the arm. The fabric contains moisture-wicking properties to pull away sweat associated with hot flashes and aloe to soothe the skin. The garments are also much less likely to bunch up or create creases that can mark the skin.

The LympheDIVAs compression garments are available in several colors - pink (the signature color for breast cancer awareness), black, bright blue and gold and silver metallic. The sleeve and glove colors can be mixed or matched to create a personalized "look." In the future, the company hopes to produce garments in other prints and patterns.

The LympheDIVAs garments are expected to roll out on December 15. Currently, cost is $90.00 for pink, blue and black sleeves and $100.00 for the silver and gold metallic sleeves. Gloves are $50.00. The garments must be personally fitted. For more information, check out the company's website at

For information about LympheDIVAs™,

For general information about breast cancer or lymphedema:

American Cancer Society

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National Lymphedema Network

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