Why your lymphatic system is important to your breast health
*Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only anddoes not constitute medical advice, nor is it meant to diagnose or treat any conditions. Please see your medical doctor if you have any concerns or questions about your health.
What is the lymphatic system?
The lymphatic system is part of our circulatory system but it does not circulate blood nor is it directly connected to the heart. The lymph nodes, vessels, and lymph organs, such as the tonsils and spleen, transport lymphatic fluid. This fluid consists of water, protein, cellular waste, fat cells, and white blood cells.Lymph vessels run parallel to the veins in the body and collectexcess fluid and waste from the tissues of our body. Lymph nodes filter out waste before the fluid returns to our blood stream. It is also part of our immune system, clearing waste and bringing white blood cells to injured areas to promote healing.
How is your lymphatic system related to breast health?
The group of lymph nodes in the armpits are called axillary lymph nodes and they receive 75-90% of the lymph from the breasts. The remaining lymph drains to the internal mammary nodes. Lymph nodes may be surgically removed during treatment of breast cancer to determine whether or not cancer has spread to the lymphatic system. Some breast surgeons dissect lymph nodes to help with staging and planning further treatment. The lymph vessels and nodes can be damaged during radiation treatment.
Lymphedema is chronic swelling in a body part often caused bydamage to the lymphatic system. Breast lymphedema can occur following lumpectomy with sentinel node biopsy, axillary lymph node dissection, and/or radiation treatment. Please inform your breast surgeon or radiation oncologist if you have persistent swelling in the breast that was treated for cancer. Your doctor may refer you to a lymphedema therapist for further assessment.
What can you do to promote lymphatic transport through thebreasts regularly?
Deep breathing and exercise are key to keeping the lymphatic fluid moving throughout the body. Deep breathing creates a respiratory muscle pump that helps fluid in the abdominal lymph nodes to move into the thoracic duct prior to returning to the subclavian veins in the neck. Exercise has a similar effect with muscle contractions around lymphatic vessels pumping fluid through their one-way valves. Lymphatic drainage of the breast can relieve tension and promote lymphatic flow in the breast. The lymphatic system removes toxins from the tissues of the body, including the breast. Familiarity with the breast through self-massage can also help identify any changes that may need to be reported to a medical professional. Those with a diagnosis or history of breast cancer will want to consult their oncologist prior to attempting breast lymphatic drainage and/or massage.
uhnpatienteducation.ca, “How to do self lymphatic massage on your upper body.”
Audrey Philatre is a lymphedema-certified occupational therapist.
Audrey is passionate about working with those affected by cancer, which her lymphedema specialty has afforded her the opportunity to do regularly. She is excited about the possibilities that a holistic lifestyle offers to people with chronic illness. Audrey is also a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach through the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Instagram at instagram.com/holisticadvantage