It is difficult to determine the prevalence of lymphedema because many cases go unreported or are inaccurately diagnosed. The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that lymphedema affects an estimated 100 million men, women, and children around the world including at least 3 million Americans. However, these estimates are believed to be low. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that there are presently about 12 million cancer survivors in the US, a figure that continues to grow.
Most sources estimate that 20% to 40% of these survivors will develop lymphedema, with higher percentages among the elderly. Using a 30% ratio, these figures indicate that approximately 3 million cases of lymphedema in the US are caused by cancer treatment alone. This figure does not take into consideration primary lymphedema or secondary lymphedema due to other causes.
Lymphedema can affect self-image, interfere with routine activities and job performance, cause depression, and impose clothing restrictions - limiting the selection of clothing to that which can be worn comfortably, often at the expense of fashion. For survivors, it can be a lasting reminder of the disease hoped defeated. Lymphedema is a chronic condition that requires management for the rest of one’s life. Feeling frustrated with treatment methods is quite common because they often demand a considerable commitment of time, effort, and money.
Education is the key for combating lymphedema – understanding what it is and how it develops; knowing what precautions to take to avoid its occurrence or halt its progression; and once afflicted, determining what treatment options are available and how to manage the condition.