Actions of the lymph system include regulating the balance of fluids in the limbs and fighting infections. When lymph nodes in the armpit are removed or damaged, patients can no longer appropriately regulate the fluid in their affected arm which leads to swelling that can range from mild to extensive (bordering on elephantitis) and quite disfiguring. "Statistically, this is a public health problem," says Schmitz. "It affects up to one-half of the nearly two million breast-cancer survivors alive in the U.S. today which means that there may be as many as one million women suffer from some form of lymphedema."
"Further, the psychological effects are enormous," adds Schmitz. "Indeed, many women have reported that they would rather have another mastectomy than lymphedema because it's a painful, constant, and debilitating reminder of their breast cancer."
Current clinical guidelines advise lymphedema sufferers to not participate in any vigorous upper-body exercise; and, in particular, to not lift objects that weigh more than five to 15 pounds. "A gallon of milk weighs eight pounds," notes Schmitz, "so, basically, you're telling women, 'Don't carry your own groceries don't pick-up your own grandchildren don't live your own lives!' And the guidelines are based on air on nothing. There's no scientific evidence to suggest that the
Contact: Olivia Fermano
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine