Chemotherapy and radiation therapy create many complications and side effects in the body, some of which are more severe than others. One of the more damaging adverse effects of this treatment is the development of lymphedema, wherein excess fluid is retained by the lymph nodes, or the flow of lymphatic fluid is otherwise disturbed. Lymphedema causes extreme swelling, most often in the arms and legs, which is painful and can cause inflammation, discoloration, loss of mobility, and infection.
Unfortunately, lymphedema is a permanent condition, though it can be managed by complete decongestive therapy or regular lymph drainage therapy. Lymphedema is caused either by the cancer itself or by chemotherapy and radiation. Mesothelioma, because it takes so long to develop and diagnose, spreads rapidly, and for many the cancer will ultimately reach the lymph nodes in the neck, chest, or abdomen. Most often, however, the damage is caused by conventional cancer treatments, especially when they are conducted in these areas. Lymphedema may occur immediately after treatment, or take weeks, months, or even years to develop.
Lymph nodes are comprised of white blood cells that clean blood tissue and vessels of excess fluid, protein and other contaminants. Occasionally, these structures are removed in mesothelioma surgery because they have been infected with cancerous cells.
Manual lymph drainage therapy is a special form of gentle massage that encourages the lymph fluid flow throughout the body. This type of therapy is significantly different from standard oncology massage and should be performed by a properly trained professional. The trained therapist will be able to teach patients ways to perform much of the treatment at home, so victims can relieve some of their symptoms in comfort.
Specific drainage techniques include the rotary technique, wherein the therapist uses wrists and palms on the skin in a circular motion, stationary cycles, which uses the fingertips in spirals over the lymph nodes, and scoop strokes, wherein the therapist strokes the skin in a twisting motion with palms facing up and fingers outstretched. Other management therapies for lymphedema include the use of compression garments, which are recommended specifically by a physician, and specific exercises, which are designed to improve lymphatic drainage.
The symptoms of lymphedema include feelings of tightness or swelling in extremities; decreased flexibility in a hand, elbow wrist, fingers, or leg; pain, aching, heaviness, or weakness in arms or legs; redness or signs of infection; skin feeling stiff; and small indentations left on the skin after applying pressure. Some medical experts recommend the benefits of lymph drainage therapy directly after surgery – the stimulation of lymphatic circulation may assist in its restoration and development and help patients avoid lymphedema completely.
There are very few risks associated with manual lymph drainage therapy.
Mesothelioma , more than most other cancers, affects an older age group
who may already be susceptible to stagnant lymphatic flow. Other contributing
factors to decreased flow include lack of exercise, stress, fatigue, and
emotional shock, which are all effects of an initial mesothelioma diagnoses.
Doctors suggest that patients suffering from lymphedema take certain precautions to manage or reduce their condition. Such tips include cleaning and moisturizing the affected skin every day, avoiding tight clothing, pressure, and injury on the area, doing prescribed exercises as instructed, and not sitting in one position for more than 30 minutes.
Lymph drainage therapy can take less than an hour to complete and, in addition to its other benefits, improves the immune system and boosts metabolism. Mesothelioma patients are very susceptible to lymphedema, and should pay close attention to any potential symptoms. Mesothelioma attorneys believe that lymphatic massages may be a preventative or complementary treatment for some patients affected by asbestos-related diseases.