Lymphedema therapy

Lymphedema (an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in tissue) may occur in breast cancer patients who had all or part of their breast and underarm lymph nodes removed, or who had radiation therapy to treat the disease. Lymphedema causes painful swelling and can be debilitating, so education and early detection are crucial.

Your breast cancer team provides a personalized, comprehensive treatment plan to help you manage and control your lymphedema and improve your quality of life by:

  • Decreasing discomfort and heaviness associated with lymphedema
  • Improving mobility and function
  • Improving tissue quality and health to prevent infection
  • Providing education on how to independently manage lymphedema
  • Obtaining appropriate compression garments and devices

Surgery to control lymphedema

Our breast surgeons perform two advanced procedures to control lymphedema in combination with DIEP flap surgery:

  • Vascularized lymph node transfer: In this procedure, our surgeons take healthy lymph nodes from the flap tissue and transplant them into the chest and armpit area to rebuild as much of the lymphatic system as possible. Edward-Elmhurst Health is among just a handful of comprehensive cancer centers that offer this procedure, which is considered supermicrosurgery. The blood vessels involved are smaller than 1 mm in diameter.
  • Lymphaticovenular bypass: In this procedure, our surgeons reroute lymphatic fluid that normally would drain through lymph nodes in the armpit area to drain through lymph nodes in other parts of the body. We map out these tiny channels using SPY ICG technology, which is a dye process that shows us the lymphatic system under an infrared camera before we even make an incision.

Rehabilitation surveillance program

At Elmhurst Hospital, we also offer a Breast Cancer Rehabilitation Surveillance Program, a multi-visit physical therapy screening program that prepares breast cancer patients for the potential postoperative issues they may face. Patients are empowered to recognize early signs of surgical side effects and they receive a plan for post-surgical exercises. Most importantly, if concerns are identified, a patient’s surgeon or oncologist is notified so treatment can be ordered.

“This screening prior to and after breast cancer surgical procedures assists us in monitoring changes in range of motion and strength, and helps us educate patients about the lymphedema that may result following surgery,” says breast cancer nurse navigator, Kelly Southwell, RN, BS, OCN, CBCN. “Managing deficits after surgery is all about early identification and intervention.”

Rehabilitation therapy for lymphedema

The rehabilitation team at Edward-Elmhurst Health includes physical and occupational therapists who specialize in lymphedema management. They use their training and experience to help prevent, diagnose and manage lymphedema, control pain and swelling and prevent infection.

Lymphedema therapy includes:

  • Manual lymph drainage
  • Compression therapy
  • Decongestive exercises
  • Self-manual lymph drainage
  • Skin care education
  • Complete decongestive therapy (CDT)

If you’re seeking lymphedema relief, we can help. Our specialists will provide you with one-on-one support and treatments tailored to your unique needs.