Treatment for breast cancer, including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, can cause many patients to experience functional concerns that physical therapy can address. Chest pain and stiffness, swelling, numbness, parasthesias, and generalized malaise can result. At the Comprehensive Center for Breast Care at The Association of South Bay Surgeons, an integrated team will work together with the patient to provide targeted physical therapy to improve range of motion, decrease pain and reduce parasthesias and fatigue.
Prevention, early recognition and treatment of lymphedema is another mainstay of our physical therapy treatment. Lymphedema manifests itself as swelling in one of the arms (or both arms after bilateral breast surgery) because of blockage of lymph passages and the body's inability to drain fluid from surrounding tissues.
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Lymphedema is a potential side effect of breast cancer surgery and radiation therapy that can appear in some people during the months or even years after treatment ends.
Lymph is a thin, clear fluid that circulates throughout the body to remove wastes, bacteria, and other substances from tissues. Edema is the buildup of excess fluid. So lymphedema occurs when too much lymph collects in any area of the body. If lymphedema develops in people who’ve been treated for breast cancer, it usually occurs in the arm and hand, but sometimes it affects the breast, underarm, chest, trunk, and/or back.
Why does lymphedema happen? As part of their surgery, many people with breast cancer have at least two or three lymph nodes removed from under the arm (sentinel lymph node biopsy), and sometimes many more nodes (axillary lymph node dissection). If the cancer has spread, it has most likely moved into to those underarm lymph nodes first because they drain lymph from the breast. Many people also need radiation therapy to the chest area and/or underarm. Surgery and radiation can cut off or damage some of the nodes and vessels through which lymph moves. Over time, the flow of lymph can overwhelm the remaining pathways, resulting in a backup of fluid into the body’s tissues.
For information on the Torrance Memorial Medical Center Lymphadema Program please visit: www.torrancememorial.org/Rehabilitation/Cancer_Rehabilitation.aspx
For information on the Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance program please visit: http://california.providence.org/torrance/services/rehabilitation/