What is Lymphedema?
After breast cancer treatment, localized swelling is normal and should resolve with time. However, you may also be at risk of developing lymphedema, which is a more serious form of swelling that affects the arm or trunk on the same side of your body as your breast cancer. It is important to realize that the symptoms of lymphedema may begin months or even years after your breast cancer treatment. When diagnosed early, resolving lymphedema with treatment is much more successful. Recognize the signs and symptoms in their earliest stages.
Symptoms & Causes
Be aware of your body
- A limb or body part is swollen
- Swelling worsens over time
- Repeated episode of infection
- Sensation of heaviness and limited motion
- Clothes, jewelry or shoes no longer fit
- Hardening and thickening of skin
- Decreased flexibility
- Aching or general discomfort
- Skin tightness
Consult with your physician or nurse if you notice any of these symptoms.
Risk Reduction: Reduce the risk of lymphedema for those who have had lymph node removal and/or radiation
- Keep A Healthy Diet: Maintaining a healthy weight lowers the risk for developing lymphedema. Lower sodium intake.
- Keep Skin Protected: Use pH balanced lotions and soaps. Protect hands with gloves when cleaning.
- Avoid Burns: Protect your arm from sunburn. Use oven mits when cooking & avoid splash burns from steaming foods. Do not use hot tubs or saunas.
- Avoid Muscle Strain: It is okay to do normal activities & exercise with the affected arm, but don’t overdo it! Consult with a doctor about the level of activity that is right for you.
- Avoid Restrictive Clothing: Wearing tight jewelry on the affected arm or hand will create a tourniquet effect. Blood pressure should be taken on the unaffected arm or thigh when both arms are affected. Carry briefcases and/or purses on the opposite arm.
- Avoid Infection: Have blood drawn & shots given on the unaffected arm. Keep your skin clean and protected from cuts and scratches. Always carry band-aids!
Lymphedema Risk Assessment Tool
Take the following Lymphedema Risk Assessment Tool to figure out your relative risk of developing secondary arm or leg lymphedema. If you have already been diagnosed with lymphedema, this assessment guide can also help determine the risk of it becoming worse. Once you have added up your score, you can determine whether you are LOW, MODERATE, or HIGH RISK. If you are at risk, contact a local Certified Lymphedema Therapist. Find a local Certified Therapist here