Studies have indicated that there may be a link between lymphatic health and breast cancer. Breast cancer is one of the most serious diseases afflicting women in the US, with some one in eight estimated to develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their lives. It is also the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women. It is not exactly clear what causes breast cancer but scientists have identified risk factors such as a family history of cancer, exposure to carcinogenic toxins in the environment and lifestyle causes such as obesity and being overweight.
The lymph nodes are usually the first place that cancer cells spread after they have developed in the breast. Around one in three women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are also found to have cancer cells in the lymph nodes. These nodes are small glands that are found throughout the body, including the armpit, neck, chest, stomach and groin. They filter and remove toxins and other harmful substances such as cancer cells, from fluid called lymph that flows through a systemic network of lymph vessels. Lymph contains both blood plasma and white blood cells called lymphocytes that help protect the body against infection by attacking threats.
Because of the presence of cancer cells in the lymph nodes, nodes located in the underarm area are usually removed by doctors in cases of invasive cancers, to prevent their further spread to other parts of the body. A recent study by Olaya et al. 146(9) in the Sept. 2011, Archives of Surgery has revealed a surgical occurrence that cites lymph node removal in older, lower SES female patients undergoing total mastectomy even when they are node negative for cancerous migration into the lymph nodes.
Since nodes become swollen when they are infected, doctors check the lymph nodes around the collarbone and neck for signs of enlargement. When the nodes under the arms are removed, patients may suffer from lymphedema, or swelling of the soft tissues of the arms and legs due to the buildup of lymph, which may also be accompanied by numbness and infection.
If breast cancer is detected early enough, radical surgery may be avoided by promoting lymphatic health through manual lymphatic drainage. MLD is a form of gentle massage that is intended to encourage the flow of lymph through the lymph vessels through the body. Unlike blood, lymph is not automatically pumped through your system and must be circulated through the movement of the body. MLD is also used to treat lymphedema by encouraging the excess lymph to move away from the swollen areas, so that it can drain normally and remove toxins. MLD should be performed only by qualified therapists.
An MLD therapist may also teach breast cancer patients self-massage that they can perform at home in between therapy sessions to help maintain lymphatic health. Self-exercise techniques include rhythmic pumping motion which involves stimulating areas such as the major lymph nodes, by moving the skin in a circular motion with a gentle pressure and then releasing. Switch-twist-release which is used to promote lymph flow through lymph vessels under the skin; is performed by placing three fingers on the skin, gently stretching it for around an inch without sliding, and then twisting slightly to the right or left and ending by lifting the fingers away from the area.
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