AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) — There are an estimated ten million people in the United States with Lymphedema.
“Lymphedema is swelling of your body part, especially when there is cancer, radiation therapy, chemotherapy…it causes damage to your lymphatic system. You can develop swelling, it can change your skin texture, it can make it hard, it can give you redness, sensitivity, pain, and a feeling of heaviness in the arm or limb or even head and neck,” said Dr. Hari Kashyap.
Lymphedema may seem like a normal side effect of cancer treatment and sometimes may go untreated.
That’s why the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University wants to keep the community informed.
“It’s a lifelong condition. So, we like to treat those patients early on and then follow them through for years,” said Kashyap.
“I was on my job one day. My leg had started bother me, so I got off early the following day and went by and there a new doctor that came in and he noticed it right away as soon as he saw it and he said ‘you’re not going to be able to work no more’,” said Charlie Jimperson, who’s had Lymphedema since the early 90’s.
It’s important to keep an eye out for the early signs of Lymphedema.
“Early signs are usually feeling of heaviness in the arm. Arm is a little heavy, there is swelling here, and that’s how it usually starts. When it starts and we catch it at that time, we can reverse it but if you wait months and years and it reaches into a stage two or three, then it’s almost impossible to reverse it back because some of those changes and damages are permanent,” said Kashyap.
It is possible to live a normal life with Lymphedema. The first step is noticing the signs and then being checked out by a specialist.
“Living a normal life, there are four things we recommend: exercise, skincare, light massage, or manual lymph drainage and compression,” said Dr. Kashyap.
“I had so much swelling underneath my chin and they had told me it was fluid retention that was making it swell like that. So, he gave me some exercises to do, which I do, and I press down on my throat, which when I do, you can feel the fluid coming out,” said patient, Dahlia Barber.
Patients are thankful for the doctors helping them through this process.
“He’s been very pleasant and very helpful and he’s trying his best to get me where I need to be,” said Barber.
“It’s improving. It especially gets worse when she’s laying down. So, first thing in the morning she’s probably have more swelling, but when she stands up and moves around it will probably go down,” said Kashyap.
The Georgia Cancer Center is working to make sure people can detect the early signs and know what to do next when it comes to Lymphedema.
“If you have breast cancer, if you are going through radiation, if you are going through surgery, think about Lymphedema as a possible side effect. Start talking to your physician and start looking for resources, get a referral early on, and becoming more knowledgeable about it,” said Kashyap.