(WUSA9) -- Lymphedema can be a serious complication of breast cancer treatments. It brings on painful swelling within a few days, months, or even years after surgery. But there are several different treatment methods available to reduce or prevent the swelling from getting worse. The newest therapeutic advancement is called Lympha Touch.
Breast cancer survivor Raissa Kushnir is stitching a sampler for her third granddaughter.
"It's something I love to do and I have to finish because I've got to start on Christmas stockings," said Kushnir.
Normally it would take Raissa three months to finish a sampler, but this one has taken 8 months because her swollen fingers are no longer nimble.
She told us, "After I do this about 15-20 minutes I have to take a break because my hand starts to hurt."
The swelling in her arm and hand was so debilitating it forced this former 6th grade language arts elementary school teacher to move up her retirement by two years.
"It was just getting harder to grade papers, hard to be on a computer, harder to hold a pen. My arm would start hurting, my hand especially would start hurting," shared Kushnir.
Margaret Walberg-Silva with the Center For Rehabilitation at Sibley Memorial Hospital says she sees this a lot especially in her breast cancer patients. It's called Lymphedema.
"Lymphedema will develop in any area where the lymph nodes have been removed or compromised," said Walberg-Silva. "So they can not fully function as a relay station to move fluid out of the arm, so it can be absorbed... into the heart and out of the body."
Kushnir's lymph nodes were compromised in her battle with breast cancer. She had eight rounds of chemotherapy followed by a mastectomy, 36 doses of radiation and then reconstructive surgery.
The standard therapy she followed to manage lymphedema included wearing different compression garments for day and night, rhythmic massage, exercises and arm wrapping.
"We teach them early on how to activate the healthy lymphatic system they still have," said Walberg-Silva.
Then Kushnir's therapist added Lympha Touch.
Margaret Walberg-Silva said, "In layman's terms - a suction pump... the Lympha Touch, by applying suction, actually raises the skin, stretches the fascia, and opens the lymphatic vessels allowing them to drain and allowing us to gently move the fluid in the direction we want."
Kushnir knows there is no cure for lymphedema, but the benefits of Lympha Touch seem to increase after each session.
"It's not skinny, skinny like this arm, but it's a lot more limber," shared Kushnir.
Walberg-Silva added, "It is not a magic wand; it is not a miracle tool but... it does allow us to work in ways that are difficult to work with our hands."