October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in Europe1 and the second most common in the US2. The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual campaign to raise awareness of this disease. In light of this great campaign, we want to take the chance to explain how lymphedema relates to breast cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

The Campaign

The first Breast Cancer Awareness Month took place in October 1985 and was founded by the American Cancer Society and pharmaceutical companies. The purpose of the campaign was to increase awareness and educate about screening and raise money for more research. Meanwhile, Breast Cancer Awareness Month has become a global campaign marked by a pink ribbon.

Lymphedema after Breast Cancer

Treating breast cancer may result in lymphedema for several reasons. Lymph nodes and vessels are sometimes removed to slow or stop the spread of cancer, resulting in lymphedema. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can also impair or destroy the lymphatic system. Any infection that interferes with the flow of lymph can cause swelling, and a tumor itself can result in lymphedema if it’s blocking part of the lymphatic system.3

Lymphedema may appear right after surgery or chemotherapy but can also manifest months or years later. It is important to pay attention to early signs and symptoms of lymphedema, such as swelling or a feeling of heaviness, aching, or discomfort. The earlier you recognize the symptoms of lymphedema, the better it is to treat. You can read more about the signs and symptoms of lymphedema here

Reducing your Risk

There are several ways to reduce your risk of developing lymphedema. Researchers found out that obesity and weight gain after surgery increase the risk of developing lymphedema.4

Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight is not only important for treating lymphedema but also for preventing it. The same refers to gentle exercise supervised by a certified lymphedema therapist. Click here for more information about how to reduce your risk for lymphedema.

1 https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en

2 https://www.cancer.org/

3 Fu MR. Breast cancer-related lymphedema: Symptoms, diagnosis, risk reduction, and management. World J Clin Oncol. 2014 Aug 10;5(3):241-7. doi:10.5306/wjco.v5.i3.241.

4 Mehrara BJ, Greene AK. Lymphedema and obesity: is there a link? Plast Reconstr Surg. 2014 Jul;134(1):154e-160e. doi: 10.1097/PRS.0000000000000268.

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