Lymphoedema is a life-long, painful and incurable disease. Linked to a poorly functioning lymphatic system, it is characterised by a painful swelling of a limb or body region. Lymphoedema is most commonly caused by a removal of lymph nodes during cancer treatment. Along with pain and discomfort, it can also lead to infections due to reduced immunity, restricted movement, depression, poor self esteem, low quality of life, and much more. 

There is no cure for lymphoedema, and it needs to be managed everyday. One patient once described her lymphoedema experience as:

"When I heard I had breast cancer, I thought it was a death sentence. To have survived that, and then discover I have lymphoedema - I feel like I have been given a life sentence."

The lymphatic system has 3 main functions:

  1. To return fluid that is squeezed out of the capillaries (tiny blood vessels) back into the blood stream.
  2. To help the immune system by filtering infections and housing immune cells.
  3. To transport lipids and proteins, which aids in the digestion of fats and proteins.

A lymphatic system that is no longer able to effectively transport fluid, results in an accumulation of this fluid in the interstitial spaces. This fluid accumulation is called lymphoedema.

There are two types of lymphoedema. Primary lymphoedema is related to genetic factors that result in abnormalities in the lymphatic system structure and function. Secondary lymphoedema is caused by an external trauma to the lymphatic system, and is most often caused by surgical lymph node removal, and/or radiation associated with cancer treatment.

 

There is no cure for lymphoedema. It is a lifelong condition that must be managed every day. The aim of lymphoedema treatment is to manage symptoms, prevent the condition getting worse, and improve quality of life. Treatment covers five main areas including manual lymphatic drainage (specialised massage), bandaging, compression therapy, skin care and exercise. The problem with these is that the most effective treatments often have to be delivered by a specialised therapist, often in a designated location, and present a large, on-going expense to the patient. This limits the access most patients have to regular, effective lymphoedema treatment.

Cenofex Innovations is developing a medical device that can effectively manage lymphoedema when and where a patient needs it. This unique, innovative technology will transform lymphoedema treatment and return freedom and functionality to the millions of patients living with this debilitating condition.

References

Armer, J., et al. (2013) Best practice guidelines in assessment, risk reduction, management, and surveillance for post-breast cancer lymphedema Current Breast Cancer Reports 5 (2): 134-144.

Morgan, P., et al. (2005) Health-related quality of life with lymphoedema: a review of the literature International Wound Journal 2 (1): 47-62.

Norman, S., et al. (2008) Lymphedema in breast cancer survivors: incidence, degree, time course, treatment, and symptoms Journal of Clinical Oncology 27 (3): 390-397.

Oremus, M., et al. (2012) Systematic review: conservative treatments for secondary lymphedema BMC Cancer 12 (6): 1-15.

Ridner, S.H. (2013) Pathophysiology of lymphedema Seminars in Clinical Oncology 29 (1): 4-11.

Rockson, S. & Rivera, K. (2008) Estimating the population burden of lymphedema Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1131: 147-154

Sierla, R., et al. (2013) Lymphedema following breast cancer: regions affected, severity of symptoms, and benefits of treatment from the patients' perspective Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing 17 (3): 325-331.

Skobe, M., (2000) Structure, function, and molecular control of the skin lymphatic system The Journal of Investigative Dermatology 5 (1): 14-19.

Additional Resources

Lymphoedema Framework. Best practice for the management of lymphoedema. International consensus. London: MEP Ltd, 2006.

National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre. Review of research evidence on secondary lymphoedema: Incidence, prevention, risk factors and treatment. NBOCC, Surry Hills, NSW, 2008.

National Lymphedema Network. NLN Position Paper: The diagnosis and treatment of lymphedema. San Francisco, CA, 2011.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer. A Guide to Understanding Lymphedema (online booklet). LBCC.org, 5th Edition, 2015.

Cancer Action Network, Northern Sydney. Lymphoedema Stories: The Untold Truth (online booklet). Northern Sydney, NSW, 2013.

National Cancer Institute: PDQ® Lymphedema. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified 17/15/2015. Available at http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/lymphedema/lymphedema-hp-pdq. Health Professional Version. Accessed 04/22/2015.

National Cancer Institute: PDQ® Lymphedema. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified 05/29/2015. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/lymphedema/lymphedema-pdq. Patient Version. Accessed 04/22/2015.