FROM OUR EXPERTS
Q. I felt a lump under my arm, in the area of my armpit, not in my breast. So that means I don’t have to worry about breast cancer, right? A. Wrong. Your breasts don’t begin and end right there front and center on your chest; breast tissue can actually stretch up under the arm. In addition, there are a number of lymph nodes in your armpits that, when swollen, are a sign your body is fighting an infection… or cancer. Previous Breast Cancer Symptom: Dimpled Skin Next Breast Cancer Symptom: Swelling and Hot Sensation
The lymph nodes reveal information about outlook and they help doctors determine the best types of treatment against the cancer. Your lymph nodes act as filters for your body's lymphatic drainage system. That's why the lymph nodes are likely to "catch" or filter out cancer cells that might be floating in the fluid that drains away from the cancerous area of the breast.
The surgeon will inject a blue dye and a radioactive substance (called a tracer) into the tumor or the skin over the tumor. The first lymph nodes that turn blue and pick up the tracer are called the sentinel (meaning "first") lymph nodes. The lymph node or nodes are then removed and sent to the pathologist, who looks to see if they contain any cancer cells. If no cancer cells are found, then no additional lymph node surgery is done.
If cancer cells are found in the nodes, then more underarm lymph nodes usually need to be removed. This is called an axillary (the armpit area) lymph node dissection (removal). There are thr...
Q. I definitely want to avoid lymphedema. Is there anything I can do to ward it off, or is lymphedema totally random? A. The very best thing you can do to help prevent lymphedema is to make sure you get full range of motion back in your arm, whether after surgery or radiation. Favoring the arm on your affected side, hunching your shoulder protectively, being too stiff to stretch your arm up over your head and around towards your back–these are all things that will make it easier for lymphedema to gain a foothold. I have a friend who’s a physical therapist specializing in lymphedema treatment. In fact, we became close as she gave me daily massages to relieve my own swollen arm. (Just as getting a tummy tuck is the silver lining of a tram flap reconstruction, a daily massage is the big plus of having lymphedema!) This friend says that women who’ve had surgery, particularly a mastectomy with lymph node removal (even if just a single node) need physical thera...
You should know
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