Advice Helps Prevent Pain After Breast Cancer Surgery

Patients benefit from information on how to reduce risk of lymphedema, experts say

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 26, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Patients recovering from breast cancer surgery have a greater chance of avoiding a painful and debilitating post-surgery condition if they get a little extra information, a study has found.

Lymphedema is a condition that causes a debilitating swelling of the extremities following breast cancer surgery. Symptoms also include pain, fatigue, numbness and reduced limb mobility. Patients with lymphedema are predisposed to other complications such as fibrosis, cellulitis, infections and septicemia.

About 30 percent of the 2.4 million U.S. breast cancer survivors have developed lymphedema, and all are at risk for the rest of their lives, according to background information in a news release from the New York University Langone Medical Center.

But there are things that patients can do to reduce the risk, including elevating the affected limb to promote fluid drainage, avoiding blood draws and injections in the affected limb and shunning tight clothing, which can aggravate symptoms, experts say.

Those who get additional information about lymphedema reported fewer symptoms and practiced more risk-reducing behaviors, according to a recent study.

"It is important to identify the early warning signs and symptoms of the condition, as well as determine what interventions to take," said study co-author Dr. Deborah Axelrod, an associate professor in the department of surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center and a member of the NYU Cancer Institute, in the news release. "We also enroll patients into ongoing behavior and risk modification trials and work with physical therapists to ensure symptom reduction."

Co-author Mei R. Fu said this is the first study to show that education can reduce risk of lymphedema.

"Nurses can play a leadership role in educating patients about lymphedema and can play a role in improving the quality of life in cancer survivors," Fu, assistant professor in the College of Nursing at New York University, stated in the news release.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more information on lymphedema.

SOURCE: New York University Langone Medical Center, news release, Aug. 18, 2009
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