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Lymphedema: A Quality-of-Life Issue for Cancer Survivors

As cancer survival rates continue to increase, survivorship quality-of-life issues are also gaining more attention. One of the most debilitating conditions that breast cancer patients experience is called lymphedema. Lymphedama is an accumulation of fluid within parts of the body that is caused by reduced functioning of lymph nodes, which filter the body’s fluids to remove foreign particles such as viruses. Lymph vessels are often removed during cancer surgery and may be damaged during radiation therapy.

An article recently came out in Current Oncology on efforts to promote prevention and management of lymphedema on a national scale. While lymphedema occurs in individuals with absent or malformed blood vessels, most cases in North America are caused by cancer treatment. Lymphedema has been most investigated in breast cancer survivors and incidence rates range between 3-42%. Similar rates of lymphedema occur in soft-tissue sarcoma, gynecologic cancers, and melanoma.

In the article, the authors, Hodgson, Towers, Keast, Kennedy, Pritzker, and Allen, discuss efforts in Canada to develop a clinical, research and education strategy on lymphedema. Like the field of oncofertility, the team identified that there is a lack of global awareness about lymphedema and restricted access to lymphedema treatments, such as physical compression through bandages, surgery, or laser therapy. In addition, insufficient education for health care providers, the public, and policymakers also prevent patients from taking risk-reduction measures and getting appropriate and timely treatment. Finally, members of the lymphedema community identified the need for increased research on the prevalence of lymphedema, the best treatments for the problem, and information on financial costs.

Like oncofertility, barriers to lymphedema care include a lack of clinical clarity on the medical practitioners responsible for patient education, funding, and access for treatment.  To read more details about the need and options to advance lymphedema, read the entire article.


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