Thanks to improved surgical techniques, today’s cancer patients are far less likely to develop lymphedema after surgery. Those who are affected by the condition can find help at Roswell Park’s Lymphedema Clinic, the only physician-managed lymphedema program in Western New York.
Lymphedema is a swelling of part of the body—most often a limb—caused by the build-up of lymph fluid, which helps the body fight infection. The condition can be caused by surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and nearby lymph nodes. (Lymph nodes are removed so they can be checked for cancer cells to see if the disease has spread.) Removing the lymph nodes interrupts the normal flow of lymph fluid, causing it to “back up” in tissue and resulting in lymphedema, which can be treated but not reversed.
The Roswell Park Lymphedema Program provides specialized treatment that includes the removal of excess fluid through Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage and wrapping the affected limb with bandages. Treatment sessions also focus on educating patients about lymphedema, and teaching them how to keep swelling down and prevent infections after cancer treatment is complete.
Kathleen Fassl, Co-Director of Lymphedema Management Services at Roswell Park, emphasizes that it’s never too late to seek help if lymphedema develops:
Sometimes we see people who have had lymphedema for 20 years, and we get results. Most of the time, our patients get between a 40 - 60% reduction in swelling.
Clinic services are open to all, including patients who are not being treated at Roswell Park. Financial support from the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation funds the purchase of new products for the Clinic, as well as elastic sleeves and stockings for lymphedema patients who do not have insurance coverage.