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Dr. Sandy Sublett is convinced a new testing method can prevent months of debilitating pain for a large segment of her Cedar Rapids clientele. And she’d like the larger medical community to follow her lead. Ms. Sublett, owner of Advanced Therapy Specialists, a physical therapy practice in northeast Cedar Rapids, is part of a nationwide group of therapists seeking to draw more attention to the proactive detection and prevention of lymphedema, a condition characterized by the buildup of lymphatic fluid in various locations in the body, most often in the arms and legs. Under normal conditions, the lymphatic system drains excess moisture from the body’s tissues. However, lymphedema generally occurs as the result of a traumatic injury that leads to a blockage of the body’s lymphatic system, or by the removal of lymph nodes as the result of surgical procedures. In early stages, the impaired drainage of lymphatic fluid can lead to uncomfortable swelling; as the condition advances, fibrotic tissue begins to develop and the affected areas become excessively swollen and misshapen. And it’s more than an issue of discomfort – in extreme cases, it can result in a lack of mobility and be a source of serious infection. More than 200,000 lymphedema cases are reported in the U.S. each year. 58% of all cancer patients are at risk of developing lymphedema, and certain cancer patients can be particularly vulnerable to the condition, especially those diagnosed with melanoma, pelvic area cancers and breast cancer, which carries a lymphedema risk as high as 80%. Ms. Sublett’s clinic specializes in lymphedema treatment at all stages, but she said it’s important to detect the condition in its early stages to provide the most effective treatment. “I'm part of a group worldwide that's trying to create a paradigm shift on swelling management, both for non-lymphedema and lymphedema,” she said. “All lymphedema therapists want everybody who has lymphedema to get in (for treatment) sooner.” Left untreated, lymphedema patients can experience leakage of lymphatic fluid through a wound in the skin. “They start weeping this fluid, and the fluid starts eating off the other skin and causes these big wounds,” she said. “It’s a wreck. And they'll try to get these wounds fixed, but you can't fix the wounds until you get the swelling out.” Left untreated, lymphedema can require chronic treatments and infections, becoming a lifelong condition for some patients. Treatments for severe cases can include physiotherapy, pneumatic pumps, hospitalization and corrective surgery.