Cancer survivors fear lymphedema. ImpediMed's campaigning for testing that can prevent it

Medical device maker ImpediMed is promoting lymphedema awareness, testing and early detection in its first consumer campaign, "Lymphedema Can't." (ImpediMed)

Imagine surviving cancer and then getting a new chronic disease as a side effect of treatment.

That’s reality for cancer survivors who develop the limb-swelling complication lymphedema, which is caused by a buildup of lymphatic fluid.

But as medical device maker ImpediMed points out in its first major consumer-facing campaign, testing and early detection can prevent the debilitating condition.

The Australia-based company, with its Sozo digital health platform monitoring fluid in body tissues, is partnering with the Lymphatic Education & Research Network and the LIVE Today Foundation on the education and awareness campaign, dubbed “Lymphedema Can’t.” It includes digital ads and social media posts bearing the emphatic slogan, “Lymphedema can’t ruin my survivorship, if I detect it early.”

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Timed for breast cancer awareness month, the campaign features posts on Facebook and Twitter urging cancer patients to “take control of your survivorship.” At a companion website, patients and their loved ones can learn more about the condition and the importance of early detection through routine testing.

“The beauty is that lymphedema develops in stages,” said Joann Yao, senior director of marketing for ImpediMed, noting patients with breast cancer, melanoma and pelvic area cancers are most at risk. Typically, the condition occurs after lymph nodes are surgically removed or damaged by radiation.

Caught early, it can be managed at home with simple measures such as massage, stretching and compression garments. But left untreated, the painful condition can become chronic, limiting movement, requiring intense physical therapy and possibly leading to infection and hospitalization.

“Our call to action for patients? Get tested,” Yao said. “What we really want to do is get them talking with their healthcare team.”

According to patient advocates and healthcare providers, newly diagnosed cancer patients have either never heard of lymphedema or are scared of it, Yao explained, so the campaign is "a message for welcome ears."

“We’ve had surgeons tell us that they’ve had patients ask them not to treat their lymph nodes because they’re scared of lymphedema,” she added.  

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ImpediMed has developed a 30-second noninvasive test offered through healthcare providers, using the company’s Sozo bioimpedance spectroscopy (BIS) device. Resembling a scale in a doctor’s office—except with places for hands as well as feet—the device can detect small shifts in fluid in the limbs that can signal lymphedema before swelling is visibly noticeable.

The branded campaign stems from ImpediMed’s own research showing that more patients are asking about lymphedema prevention or searching for information about it online.

The campaign website includes a tool to search for providers offering the test; printable questions and a fact sheet for patients to share with their cancer team; and links to virtual events led by advocates.

The lineup includes an Oct. 9 Facebook Live event “Lymphedema Can’t Ruin my Survivorship,” with Sheri Prentiss, M.D., a breast cancer and lymphedema survivor and founder of the patient advocacy group LIVE Today Foundation, and the Boston Lymphatic Symposium on Oct. 30.