In August 2007, Ana Achío, current president of the National Foundation for Solidarity against Breast Cancer (FUNDESO), was diagnosed with breast cancer. She almost immediately had surgery. Then, she started chemotherapy and radiotherapy and her condition improved. However, two years later, her arm started to swell.
Achío remembers that specialists warned her about that, because after the removal of axillary vessels (under the arm) the blood would not flow as regular. As a result, she had to maintain a balanced diet and to exercise.
From 10% to 12% of patients with breast cancer whose lymph nodes are removed, suffer from lymphedema. This is a complication that occurs in one of the arms and becomes severe or irreversible in only 5% of patients.
It involves the swelling of the arm because there are not enough lymph nodes. As consequence, fluid accumulates and it is not easily drained,
informed Yodeiri Medji, surgical oncologist and senologist at Clínica Bíblica.
In Achío’s case, she says she never felt pain, but she felt how her arm started to swell. Now she uses a compression arm sleeve.
Now I use a compression arm sleeve to make pressure and let the blood flows a bit. I have lymphedema since 2009 and so far, I’ve been taking care of myself and hydrating the arm,
Doctor Medji said that this condition becomes uncomfortable for patients, who must often deal with the process of recovery from surgery and the heaviness of the arm. However, in most of the cases, there is not risk. She explained that at this time the treatment is focused on rehabilitation.
Maria José Ibarra, an oncologist and director of OncoClinic, stated that the first thing patients should do is to appeal to prevention: there are factors that influence, for example infections after surgery, obesity, lack of mobility, a sedentary life and wear clothing that compress the arm. She added that lymphedema can occur years later.