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Lymph Drainage Therapy for Cancer Care

Cancer treatments and surgeries cause all sorts of different issues with the body and the disease itself prompts a number of symptoms that cause alarm and are best addressed immediately. In some cancers, such as mesothelioma, lymphedema is one of these issues, and treatments that include lymph drainage therapy may be able to assist in conquering this painful and unsightly condition.

What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema occurs when excess lymphatic fluid is retained by the body’s lymph nodes and results in severe swelling in particular parts of the body, most often in the arms or legs. The swelling occurs when a blockage prevents the fluid from draining properly.

For cancer patients, the removal of lymph nodes during cancer surgery may change the way the lymphatic fluid flows; hence, it is often more difficult for the fluid to flow properly and build-up occurs. Mesothelioma radiation may also cause lymphedema because the lymph nodes are sometimes damaged during radiation or scar tissue may form in the lymph-collecting tubes.

In addition to swelling, most patients plagued with this condition also report a heaviness in the affected area as well as muscle aches and pains. The skin may become red and feel hot and sometimes takes on the look of leather or resembles the skin of an orange.

What is Lymph Drainage Therapy?

There is no cure for lymphedema and it is indeed a permanent condition. However, it is also a manageable condition and the swelling may respond to treatment such as manual lymphatic drainage therapy. Therefore, it is necessary not to ignore any swelling that occurs after mesothelioma surgery or radiation and to address it as soon as possible.

Manual lymph drainage therapy originated in Europe in the 1930s. It was first used to detoxify the body but was later discovered that it could improve the inner workings of the lymphatic system. Administered by a certified massage therapist or physical therapist, it involves the manipulation of the affected area, usually gentle strokes towards the heart. The most common MLD techniques include:

  • Rotary technique - The therapist massages the skin in a circular motion with their palms facing down. The wrists are used to strengthen or lessen the pressure.
  • Stationary circles - Fingertips are used to apply strokes in continuous spirals over the face, neck, and lymph nodes.
  • Pump technique - With palms down, the therapist makes oval strokes with their fingers and thumbs.
  • Scoop strokes - With palms up and fingers outstretched so that the hand resembles a scoop, the practitioner applies twisting strokes to the skin.

For many patients, doctors will recommend a one-hour treatment three to five days per week in order to manage the condition. Some experts note that a course of manual lymph drainage (MLD) therapy shortly after surgery may assist in the development of collateral lymphatic circulation which can assist the patient in avoiding the condition altogether.

What are the Risks?

Because lymphedema involves very gentle manipulation, it carries very little risk to the patient and its use is often necessary in order to avoid or manage this painful condition. In most cases, the therapist who is trained in MLD will work frequently with cancer patients so he or she will be well-versed on how to treat someone with various types of asbestos cancer without causing further damage.

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