March 6th is Lymphedema Awareness Day. What does this mean? It is a day that is set aside to share information about lymphedema, a conditon of chronic swelling.
Lymphedema can be a side effect of of breast cancer treatment. When lymph nodes are removed for diagnostic purposes, the lymphatic pathways that transport excess fluid in the body are disturbed and the fluid builds up in areas that can not be properly drained.Constituents of the fluid such as water, protein molecules, cellular debris, toxins and bacteria begin to collect in the poorly-drained area and chronic swelling results. Over time the tissue begins to thicken and, as the bacteria flourish, the risk and incidence of infection rises also. Anyone who has had lymph nodes surgically removed is at a lifetime risk of developing lymphedema.
Lymphedema can also be a condition that the patient is born with. It may show up in infancy, adolescence or adulthood, but the result is still chronic swelling that will often progress until it is is treated. If the lymphedema goes untreated it can result in elephantiasis, a term for a large, distorted limb or limbs.
These figures come to us from the Lymphedema Association of Ontario:
- Over 63,000 children and adults* live with primary or secondary lymphedema in Ontario.
- 246,000 Ontario cancer survivors** are at a lifetime risk of developing lymphedema.
- Currently, Ontario has just over 100 certified lymphedema therapists.
- Some parts of Ontario have little or no access to a certified lymphedema therapist.
* Lymphedema Association of Ontario estimate (2004).
** Based on Cancer Care Ontario data (2004).
Lymphedema has a history of being underdiagnosed and lymphedema patients have little access to appropriate care. As awareness of lymphedema grows, real information about lymphedema and its treatment and managememt is still lacking for many.
Lymphedema Awareness Day is March 6 of every year and we have chosen this day as a day to draw attention to lymphedema. We believe that lymphedema awareness is lymphedema education. We are dedicated to improving the lives of lymphedema patients, and information and awareness are key components of making life with lymphedema easier and more bearable.We look forward to a day when lymphedema patients can have access to the care they need and find understanding of their condition wherever they go.
We encourage you to do an internet search for the term Lymphedema Awareness Day in Canada. You might be surprised at what you can learn!