Lymphedema: Condition 'changes everything'

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Lymphedema: Condition 'changes everything'

Postby patoco » Sat Feb 03, 2007 6:11 pm

Lymphedema: Condition 'changes everything'

By Jane Grau
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 01/29/2007 11:07:13 PM MST

Cynthia Minor has a busy life. She's a health inspector, a violinist and she teaches riding. In between, she makes time for therapy.

She has lymphedema, a side effect of breast cancer surgery.

"It changes everything," Minor said of adapting to the condition, marked by swelling in one arm. "I could write a whole book on coping."

Enter certified lymphedema therapist Nicole Kilgos. She offers a treatment called "manual lymphatic drainage," or MLD, a non-invasive, hands-on technique that reduces the swelling caused when healing fluids carried by lymph vessels build up.

Along with relieving symptoms, Kilgos teaches clients and their loved ones the self-care required for what will be a lifelong condition - there's no cure for it once it appears.

"It's incredibly important that people understand that therapy isn't a 'treatment' where they go and get taken care of," said Kilgos. "Rather, we teach them how to integrate these exercises into their daily lives and to live happier and healthier."

Lymphedema can occur when lymph nodes or vessels are removed during surgery, from other types of cancer or conditions such as obesity or chronic venous insufficiency.

The symptoms - uncomfortable heaviness, swelling and tenderness in the arm and trunk - appear gradually, but in extreme cases, can cause such pain that even a ride in the car can be excruciating.

Without proper therapy, lymphedema compromises the immune system, so infections can arise quickly in the affected area. Minor has noticed that a scratch on her affected arm will take weeks to heal, as opposed to days on the other.

She is grateful she was able to address the condition early. It is not uncommon, said Kilgos, for doctors to not mention lymphedema to patients, or not know what to do about it when it occurs.
"We can make it workable even in late stages," said Kilgos, "but catching it early is wonderful - it makes it easier to manage, to integrate into daily life and to prevent further damage to the lymph system."
* JANE GRAU can be contacted at or 801-257-8694. Send comments about this story to

What is lymphedema?
A build-up of lymphatic fluid, usually in the trunk, arm or leg. The fluid is made up of protein, water, fats and wastes from cells; lymph nodes filter wastes and return the fluid to blood. If lymph vessels or nodes become damaged, the fluid cannot move freely and can cause swelling. What causes it? Lymphedema can be inherited but is usually acquired. Twice as many women as men get it. The most common causes of acquired lymphedema are surgery or radiation treatment for several types of cancer, such as breast, pancreatic, prostate and testicular cancers. An estimated two to three million people are affected each year in the U.S. For more information about treatment for lymphedema, call Nicole Kilgos at 801-487-8388.
Source: Society for Vascular Surgery


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