The SLP Role in Managing Lymphedema due to Head/Neck CancerApr 19, 2023
Lymphedema is one of the most common side effects of head and neck cancer treatment. It is a condition where excess lymphatic fluid accumulates in the tissues, leading to swelling and discomfort. This can be a difficult condition to manage, but speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can play an important role in helping patients deal with it.
What Is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a condition that occurs when the lymphatic system is damaged or blocked, leading to the accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the tissues. This can cause swelling, discomfort, and other symptoms, depending on the severity of the condition.
In the case of head and neck cancer, lymphedema can occur as a result of radiation therapy or lymph node removal surgery. The lymphatic system in the neck and head can become blocked, leading to the buildup of fluid in the tissues of the face, neck, and head.
What Is the SLP Role in Managing Lymphedema?
SLPs play an important role in managing lymphedema due to head and neck cancer. They can provide patients with a variety of strategies to help manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
One of the key strategies that SLPs use to manage lymphedema is exercise therapy. This involves a series of exercises that are designed to stimulate the lymphatic system and improve lymphatic flow. These exercises may include neck stretches, shoulder rolls, and other movements that help to improve circulation and reduce swelling.
Another strategy that SLPs use to manage lymphedema is manual lymphatic drainage (MLD). This is a technique that involves gentle massage of the affected area to stimulate lymphatic flow and reduce swelling. SLPs are trained in this technique and can provide patients with MLD sessions as part of their treatment plan.
In addition to exercise therapy and MLD, SLPs can also provide patients with education and support. They can help patients understand their condition and provide them with tools and strategies to manage their symptoms on their own. This may include advice on diet and lifestyle changes, as well as tips on how to manage swelling and discomfort.
Lymphedema is a common side effect of head and neck cancer treatment, but it doesn't have to be a debilitating condition. With the help of a skilled SLP, patients can learn to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. From exercise therapy to MLD to education and support, SLPs play a crucial role in helping patients deal with lymphedema.
Nancy Wariari, MHA, MS CCC-SLP
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