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March 6 is world Lymphedema Day and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to share a little bit of information about the condition that affects about 1 million Canadians and approximately 140 million people worldwide.

Lymphedema is characterized by chronic localized high protein swelling, typically in one or more limbs (but can affect any part of the body) resulting from an impaired lymphatic system. It is treated with a combination of manual lymphatic drainage massage, compression bandaging and garments, exercise, and skin care; otherwise known as combined decongestive therapy.

The most common cause of lymphedema in the developed world is breast cancer intervention, with as high as 70% of breast cancer patients affected. However, lymphedema can result from any surgery or trauma affecting lymph nodes including radiation therapy and is therefore not limited to breast cancer treatment alone.

Lymphedema is also a condition you can be born with. Approximately 1 in 100,000 people are born with a congenital malformation to their lymphatic system. The result is localized swelling either immediately after birth or anytime later in life. Primary (congenital) Lymphedema is often misdiagnosed, and patients can sometimes go years without proper care.

While lymphedema is gaining more and more awareness, it is still a rather unheard of condition. It is visible to the public, and patients wearing compression garments can sometimes find themselves bombarded with questions and stares. Like any condition, public awareness is crucial! Government and insurance companies need to be further educated so that patients can receive more funding for treatment and for expensive compression garments. Knowledge really is power, and the more we can spread awareness, the more we can do to help those living with lymphedema.