Breast cancer surgery side effect becomes concern for some patients

Carolyn Newman is a breast cancer survivor and lymphedema patient.

"I wear cancer on my sleeve every day. I am constantly always reminded that I've had breast cancer and I have lymphedema," Newman said.

Lymphedema is swelling, which results when fluid doesn't drain properly. In breast cancer patients, it generally occurs in one arm and is caused by the removal of or damage to the lymph nodes as part of treatment.

Lymphedema symptoms include tingling or feeling a numbing sensation, increase in the circumference of the arm, and changes in skin texture, such as tightness or redness.

"My arm started to swell and I noticed the change immediately," Newman said. "It was very obvious that there was a change and it happened three years after my diagnosis."

Dr. Erica Bloomquist, a surgical oncologist at Memorial Breast Cancer Center, said a targeted and less invasive procedure is proving effective in reducing the risk of lymphedema. 

"We moved past axillary lymph node dissection to something called sentinel lymph node biopsy where instead of removing all of the lymph nodes you just sample some of them," Bloomquist said. 
 
During surgery, a device is used to identify the sentinel lymph node.  It's the first lymph node to which cancer cells are most likely to spread from a tumor.  Once that lymph node is located, it's removed.

"We test it and if there are no cancer cells left, then we're done and all that woman has had is that lymph node removed," Bloomquist said. 
 
But it didn't turn out that way for Newman. Ten years ago, Newman underwent breast surgery and had 13 lymph nodes removed.  

"For the rest of my life, I must practice risk reduction," Newman said.  

It's why she encourages every woman, especially those going through breast cancer treatment,  to discuss lymphedema in detail with their doctors. 
 
"Look at your arm," Newman said. "Be aware of any changes in your arm and immediately go to your physician if there are any changes.

"Know your risk, know your body -- that is first key -- and live your life." 

This BBSNews article was syndicated from News | WPLG, and written by News | WPLG. Read the original article here.