Treatment for Lymphedema

Margaret Pulton

I was watching my sister trying to deal with acute lymphedema following a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. She is one of 800,000 people in North America with 64,000 new cases being diagnosed every year. Mostly cancer victims.

Cause: Removal of lymph nodes during surgery and damage from radiation to the lymphatic drainage system.

Current Treatment: Self massage of the affected limb at least twice a day, pressure bandaging of the limb and wearing tight, elastic sleeves all the time. Sometimes, pumps are used to force the lymph out of the limb to keep drainage from stagnating and causing infections which are extremely serious. There is no one method to date allowing the lymph to flow back to thoracic node where it needs to go.

Would it be possible, with enormous amounts of technology to which we have access to, offer a simpler and easier way to deal with this life altering condition? I think stem cells are not going to be available any time soon. A possible solution might be a garment made from extremely light and flexible fabric with sensors inside to measure pressure and temperature change of the skin. The garment, or shirt, would then start to compress and gently push the fluid from the finger tips up to the nodes in the neck, back and chest. The result would be continuous massage, hopefully creating new pathways for the lymph drainage and while certainly not a cure, perhaps a better way to get the job done.

Lymphedema can also affect more than a person’s arms, leg edema is very difficult to manage. Perhaps, a pair of pressure pants could help. It is my hope that someone out there can envision putting the technology to work. There is a huge need and what is offered so far is very basic and not terribly effective. Thank you very much for the opportunity to express my idea about this extremely difficult condition.

About Margaret Pulton:

I was born in Rossland B.C. and I grew up in Edmonton Alberta and graduated from the University of Alberta school of nursing. Our graduating class will be celebrating our 50th anniversary this year. My husband and I met in highschool and married in 1961. We had three daughters and moved to Victoria in 1972. My husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his twenties. The disease was slow but progressive so we were constantly adapting our lives to cope with the disease. In the early 90’s, we bought an IBM 386 computer along with an amazing voice recognition program. Bill, my husband, was actually able to dictate correspondence on the machine although it was very primitive, but I realized then the incredible potential of technology to change and improve the lives of people facing huge challenges. I am amazed and delighted with what has been accomplished so far and am excited about what is yet to come.

2010 IdeaWave