Lymphedema is a condition that can cause significant swelling of the arm and hand due to the buildup of excess lymph in that part of the body. This condition occurs when the lymphatic system, which is responsible for draining excess fluid, is damaged as a result of cancer therapies. While statistics vary widely, it is estimated that between four and 49 percent of breast cancer survivors develop the condition. It most frequently appears within two years of surgery or radiation therapy, but for some women does not appear until 10 to 15 years later.

Many breast cancer survivors are not aware that they are at risk of developing lymphedema because they haven’t been informed that it is a possible side effect of mastectomy or radiation therapy. Having not been educated about the condition, women at risk don’t know what symptoms to look for because they aren’t educated about the disease.

Unfortunately, many cases of lymphedema are identified too late, when the arm is visibly swollen and the progression of the disease is irreversible. However, lymphedema CAN be detected early, and with proper intervention, managed. New technologies, such as bioimpedance spectroscopy (BIS) and perometry, exist that can detect lymphedema at its earliest stages, when intervention can make a big difference in long-term outcomes. When detected early, there are a number of therapeutic options that can slow or stop the progression of the disease, including compression sleeves to reduce swelling and prevent reaccumulation of fluid.