Lymphedema affects men, women, and children — approximately 120 million people worldwide, and yet is under the radar, under-funded, and under-researched. For an estimated one million Canadians, lymphedema is a growing and complex problem in need of coordinated prevention and treatment.

Founded in 2009, the Canadian Lymphedema Framework (CLF) is a collaboration between health professionals, community-based organizations, patients, and industry partners. Its mission is to improve the standards of lymphedema management by promoting research, best practices, and clinical development. Organizing educational conferences and publishing the Pathways magazine helps address the knowledge gap surrounding the chronic condition among physicians, allied health professionals, and patients.

Though cancer treatment was previously considered to be the most common cause of lymphedema, it is becoming greatly overshadowed by lymphedema caused by the rising obesity rate. Despite this growing problem, recent advances in diagnostic imaging, surgical techniques, possible drugs, and our ability to predict lymphedema provide hope that how we detect, treat, and manage lymphedema in the future will improve greatly.  

Left untreated, lymphedema tends to progress in volume and severity, leading to loss of limb function, chronic infections, skin changes, and wounds. As well as debilitating physical effects, lymphedema also causes psychological distress, which can profoundly affect one’s quality of life.

While lymphedema can be managed with early diagnosis and diligent care of the affected limb, there is currently no cure. Recommended treatment involves specialized massage and compression, such as combined decongestive therapy, to improve lymphatic drainage. Self-management is fundamental in caring for lymphedema, and the provincial lymphedema associations across Canada are an essential element in providing support, education and access to resources for patients across the country. Volunteers work hard to raise awareness for lymphedema and advocate for equitable access to care in their provinces. Their efforts are helping to change the face of lymphedema in Canada.