Lymphoedema causes swelling of a limb or other region of the body and in extreme cases, patients loose limbs, fingers and toes. Lymphoedema is a debilitating, life long, incurable condition which affects more than 8,000 cancer survivors a year.
March is Lymphoedema Awareness Month and today (6th of March) is International Lymphoedema Awareness Day.
There are currently over 400,000 Australians living with this condition and with the increase in cancer survival rates, the numbers of people affected by lymphoedema is growing every year.
In the past it was commonly referred to as ‘Elephantiasis’ and many suffers can be the victims of bullying because of their physical appearance.
One lymphoedema patient told their doctor “had I known this would be a consequence of surviving cancer… I wouldn’t have agreed to cancer treatment… I would rather have chosen to die than to live to the end of my life with this huge leg”.
There are two types of Lymphoedema, primary and secondary. Many cancer survivors will unknowingly be suffering from the early stages of secondary lymphoedema and without appropriate diagnosis and specialised, individualised treatment, the condition can progress making the skin prone to thickening and the development of fibrosis and other secondary changes. Complications include infections such as skin ulcers, cellulitis, lymphangitis, lymphadenitis, (in severe cases sepsis) and in some extreme cases, lead to amputation of extremities and limbs.
The Australasian Lymphology Association (ALA) has launched the national Lymphoedema Awareness Month campaign to help educate cancer patients about the early signs and symptoms of lymphoedema,and encourage sufferers to carefully manage their condition.
Lymphoedema Awareness Month is also raising funds for vital research to help find more effective treatments to minimise the incidence of lymphoedema.
Individuals and communities can raise awareness and funds for vital research by registering to host an ‘Iced Tea Party’ or by making a donation at www.mycause.com.au/events/icedteapartyforlymphoedema
Dr Helen Mackie, a specialist lymphedema medical consultant and President of the ALA says with the right care, lymphoedema can be successfully managed to minimise the effects on patients.
“With early intervention being the primary means of limiting the impact lymphoedema has on patients, we aim to educate those most at risk about the early signs and symptoms so they can seek early diagnosis and treatment to minimise the impact the disorder might have on their health and their life.”
EARLY SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF LYMPHOEDEMA CAN INCLUDE:
- Transient swelling of a limb or other region of the body.
- Infection (due to lymph stasis) is often the first sign of a problem.
- Feelings of aching, heaviness, stiffness in the affected body part.
- Limitation of movement.
- Tightness or temperature changes to areas of the body.
- Clothing, jewellery or shoes may feel tighter.
- Swelling may be aggravated by heat, overuse, sustained positions and prolonged inactivity and be more
obvious at the end of the day.
HOW PEOPLE CAN MINIMISE LYMPHOEDEMA:
- Learning the symptoms can improve the rate of early diagnosis.
- Early diagnosis can reduce the impact of the disorder for sufferers and reduce the cost to the Australian healthcare system.
- If you have unexplained swelling, seek an assessment by a medical practitioner.
- To locate an ALA accredited practitioner visit lymphoedema.org.au