October is breast cancer awareness month, which is a worldwide annual campaign involving thousands of organizations, to highlight the importance of breast cancer awareness, education and research.
Here are some important breast cancer facts, credit to breastcancer.org:
- About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12 %) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
- In 2018, an estimated 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 63,960 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.
- About 2,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men in 2018. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.
- Breast cancer incidence rates in the U.S. began decreasing in the year 2000, after increasing for the previous two decades. They dropped by 7% from 2002 to 2003 alone. One theory is that this decrease was partially due to the reduced use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) by women after the results of a large study called the Women’s Health Initiative were published in 2002. These results suggested a connection between HRT and increased breast cancer risk.
- About 40,920 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2018 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989. Women under 50 have experienced larger decreases. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.
- For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer.
Thanks to awareness, early diagnosis and other factors many women are surviving breast cancer to live out a long life span.
However, after battling for their life, some women find themselves having to cope with another condition: Lymphedema.
Breast Cancer Surgery and Lymphedema
If you undergo breast cancer surgery, which is a mastectomy or a lumpectomy, your lymph nodes will usually be checked to see if they contain cancer cells. The lymph nodes in the underarm area (called axillary lymph nodes) are removed if necessary .
When these lymph nodes are removed or even treated with radiation therapy, some of them can become blocked. When the nodes are blocked this prevents lymph fluid from leaving the area.
Lymphedema occurs when lymph fluid collects in the arm (or other area such as the hand, fingers, chest or back), causing it to swell (edema).
The swelling could be very slight or in some cases the arm could swell to be much larger than normal size.
Lymphedema: Who is at Greater Risk?
Lymphedema is related to axillary lymph node surgery and radiation therapy. However, it’s not exactly clear why some people get lymphedema and others don’t.
Some potential factors include:
- Having a large number of axillary lymph nodes removed
- Radiation therapy to the axillary lymph node area
- Having axillary lymph nodes removed plus radiation therapy to the axillary lymph node area
- Having a large number of axillary lymph nodes that contain cancer
- Infections in the area after breast surgery
- Being overweight or obese
Surviving Breast Cancer But Developing Lymphedema
After Virginia Harrod was diagnosed with stage-3 breast cancer in 2014, she had a double mastectomy. Surgeons also removed 16 lymph nodes from under her armpit and the area around her breast, to see how far the cancer had spread and to
determine what further treatment might be needed. Then she underwent radiation therapy.
As it turned out, the removal of those lymph nodes, along with the radiation, put Harrod at risk for lymphedema. The lymph system problem she developed months after her surgery was a direct result of her lifesaving cancer treatment.
“Cancer was a piece of cake,” Harrod says. “It was the lymphedema that almost killed me.”
According to an article written on the Susan G. Komen website, lymphedema usually develops within 3 years of breast surgery. However, there have been cases of it developing even later.
Even though there’s no cure for lymphedema, when it’s caught early, treatment can reduce some signs and symptoms and stop them from getting worse.
Signs and symptoms of lymphedema include:
- Swelling in the arm or hand (for example, you may notice a tighter fit of rings or watches)
- Feeling of tightness, heaviness or fullness in the arm or hand
- Feeling of tightness in the skin or a thickening of the skin
- Pain or redness in the arm or hand
Contact Us Regarding Treatment Options for Lymphedema
If you know you have Lymphedema or you identify with a symptom(s) don’t delay, contact Alabama Vascular & Lymphatic Specialists today. Your life may depend on it.
We provide the most comprehensive, progressive, and personal care available for Lymphatic diseases, including Lymphedema, in the Birmingham, Alabama area.
During your visit our specialist(s) will review your medical history and develop a treatment plan to get you on the path to better health.
Call us today at 205.209.3584.