Thursday, July 9, 2009


I am going to talk briefly about lymphedema today. Just because you have breast cancer treatment or surgery does not mean you will get lymphedema, but I want you to know what it is and the things you can do to help prevent it.


Our bodies have a network of lymph vessels that carry lymph fluid to all parts of the body. These lymph vessels are connected to lymph nodes, which are small bean sized collections of immune system cells. The lymph fluid and lymph nodes both contain white blood cells that help the body fight infections. If the lymph vessels are not working well, lymph fluid can build up in body tissues; this is called LYMPHEDEMA.

Surgery that removes lymph nodes or radiation treatment to areas that contain lymph nodes can increase the chance of having lymphedema. Having both surgery and radiation increases the chance even more. Having a few lymph nodes removed is less likely to cause lymphedema than having many nodes removed. Sometimes, the cancer can cause a blockage of the lymph system and result in lymphedema.

Lymphedema is most often linked to treatments for breast, prostate, uterine, vulvar, or cervical cancers, sarcomas, and melanoma. If lymphedema occurs after breast cancer treatment, swelling can affect the arm in the side of the breast cancer.


A full, tight or heavy feeling in the arm
Less movement or flexibility in your hand, wrist, or ankle
Trouble fitting into clothing or jewelry in one specific area or your jacket or sleeve being tight


There are no scientific studies to show that women can prevent lymphedema, but here are some guidelines which may lower your risk of developing lymphedema or delay its onset:

Keep your arm clean.
Keep your skin and cuticles soft and moist with regular use of lotion or cream. DO NOT clip or cut your cuticles!
Use an electric shaver for underarm hair instead of a razor or hair removal cream.
Avoid extreme heat or cold.
Watch for early signs of infection, such as pus, redness, swelling, increased heat, tenderness, chills or fever. Call you doctor right away if you think you have an infection.
Avoid needle sticks, blood drawing or blood pressures in the affected arm.
Wear protective gloves when doing household chores and yard work.


There is effective treatment to reduce the swelling, prevent it from getting worse, and limit the risk of infection. Typically, therapy is prescribed by your doctor and should be given by an experienced therapist. Moderate to severe lymphedema is most often treated by a therapist with specialized training and expertise who will provide skin care, massage, special bandaging, exercise, and a fitting for a compression sleeve, if needed.

Seeking and getting treatment early should lead to a shorter course of treatment to get your lymphedema under control. If you have concerns that you might have lymphedema or you know of someone that might, please feel free to email me @ and I will help you with questions or concerns.

No comments:

Post a Comment