Lymphedema is a potential side effect of the breast cancer surgery. Its symptoms could vary, depending on the lymphedema stages.
Different Lymphedema Stages
Lymphedema comes in different stages - stage 0, stage I, stage II, and stage III.
Stage 0 Lymphedema
Stage 0 lymphedema is the newly added lymphedema stage. Also known as the preclinical or latent stage, a person is considered to be at stage 0 lymphedema once she is observed to be at risk of developing lymphedema. A person can be at this lymphedema stage for weeks, months, or years before the initial symptoms of lymphedema appear.
Some research suggests that the use of a non-invasive method called bioimpedance, which helps in determining the composition of body tissues, can help in identifying changes in the extremities. This is helpful in diagnosing stage 0 lymphedema.
When specialized treatment is started immediately, a person may not progress to further stages of lymphedema.
Stage I Lymphedema
Out of the four lymphedema stages, it’s during stage I when one starts to notice the distinct sign of lymphedema - the swelling.
During this stage, a person would start to experience the swelling on the affected site. The swelling may be temporarily reduced when the limb is elevated. At this point, it’s possible for pitting edema to be observed.
Stage II Lymphedema
As a person progresses into the stage of lymphedema, she will notice progression of the swelling.
During stage II lymphedema, one may notice changes in the tissues. It can become increasingly firm as a result of scar formation within the tissues (this is also known as fibrosis).
The swelling in stage II lymphedema is different from the previous stage as elevation doesn’t alleviate it. With intense treatment, one could find relief from these symptoms of stage II lymphedema.
Stage III Lymphedema
Stage III lymphedema is the last stage of the disease. Also known as lymphostatic elephantiasis, stage III lymphedema is characterized by increasingly hardened tissues, increase in the thickness of the outer layer of the skin, and changes in the skin texture.
While intense therapy can alleviate some symptoms of stage III lymphedema, it rarely happens that such therapy can revert it back to the earlier lymphedema stages.