Skin care plays an essential role in both prevention of lymphedema in those patients at risk of developing this condition, and in the management of existing lymphedema. Current methods of cancer treatment lower the risk of developing lymphedema. However, if a patient had surgery involving the lymphatic system – a radical mastectomy for example – even many years ago, the risk for developing lymphedema will always be present, even if this patient never had any arm swelling.
Prevention is in the patients’ best interest and a great tool to avoid the onset of lymphedema. The skin is the first line of defense against foreign invaders and is usually impermeable to bacteria and other pathogens. However, any defect in the skin such as burns, chafing, dryness, cuticle injury, cracks, cuts, splinters, and insect bites can present an entry site for pathogens or infectious agents and cause infection.
Patients who already have, or had lymphedema are susceptible to infections of the skin and nails. Lymphedematous tissues are saturated with protein-rich fluid, which serves as an ideal nutrient source for bacteria and other pathogens. Lymphedematous skin also tends to be dry and may become thickened and scaly, which increases the risk of skin cracks and fissures.
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