Cancer and swelling, fluid retention
Cancer patients always ask why do I have this swelling and how do I get rid of it?
It’s not the easiest question to answer, sometimes fluid retention can be from a number of related issues and at times it can be complications that all seem to happen at once, which can add not only one source of a swelling problem, but can increase the swelling by the onset of comorditities
Not every cancer has a fluid retention side effect, any number of complications can cause fluid to build up, organ dysfunction can cause fluid around the organ and in the extremities, chemotherapy and radiation, hormone replacement and scar tissue, the amount of surgery all have fluid associated side effects, infection can also cause added fluid issues.
Swelling builds up in the tissues between the skin and muscle, and is usually more present in the arms, legs, feet, ankles, abdominals and neck. It can be a very gradual build up over time, or in the case of a infection or a reaction to medication can be suddenly.
Lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes transport lymphatic fluid, waste and nutrients throughout the body, the lymph nodes are part of our immune system. The lymphatic system can transport cancer throughout our body or the cancer can start in the lymph nodes.
Glands or lymph nodes can be felt in the neck, Arm pit, (Axilla), groin, thoracic and abdominal if a cancer is blocking the return of fluid to the lymphatic nodes or vessels this will cause a swelling in and around the area of the lymphatic nodes. (Example lymph nodes in the groin,filter fluid return from the leg, if a lymph node is blocked from the cancer the leg or lower abdominal could swell.
Ascities is a swelling in the cavities lining of the abdominals, this pressure from the fluid can also cause thoracic build up around the lungs, effects organs, kidney, renal and heart. As abdominal pressure builds it also cause a swelling in the legs, this is due to impared lymphatic pathway from the legs into the groin, the leg fluid return has no where to go so will continue to build, movement and functioning of the joints become increasingly difficult. Ascities needs to be drained by catheter that can relieve the pressure internally, this should be performed at a hospital with a referral from your specialist.
With so much fluid building up in the extremities skin starts to break down, cracks, open wounds and scratches will not heal, this can lead to an attack of cellulitis which is a bacterial infection in the skin that can cause rapid, swelling,heat, pain redness and a rash that can travel with speed.
Chemotherapy, DVT and blood clotting agents can also increase fluid retention and place extra pressure on organs that are already under stress, muscle contraction issues, fatigue, and psychological stress all increase the amount of fluid in the soft tissues.
One way of reducing the fluid build up is a therapy called manual lymphatic drainage, light hands on technique that moves fluid through the interstitial spaces to a less congested area that has functioning lymphatic nodes.
Slowly working on a limb that has fluid build up can enhance movement through the joints, by moving the fluid on it can reduce the onset of an infection, reducing the internal pressure can help veins, skin and circulation to improve. The feeling patients have after a lymphatic drainage is they feel so light and able to move and walk freely.
Lymphatic drainage can be a therapy that is an added benefit to your cancer rehab, with manual lymphatic drainage the therapist main aim is to control and constantly try and reduce the swelling, by keeping you mobile and active this can have an overall positive effect on wellbeing physically and psychological. Session’s are tailored to what stage of cancer therapy you are having, how your body is responding to treatments and complications associated with medications.
Manual lymphatic drainage for cancer related swelling should only be performed by a trained lymphoedema lymphatic therapist. Lymphoedema therapists have higher level training in lymphatic dysfunction and disease, working with you and your specialist team and allied health.