Lymphedema is a buildup of fluid in the soft tissues of the body. It can happen in the arm after breast cancer surgery to remove lymph nodes. If there are few or no lymph nodes, fluid can build up in the arm. It can also happen if the lymph system in an arm has been damaged. Infection, tumours, and scar tissue from radiation therapy to the armpit area also can cause fluid to build up.
You may be able to avoid lymphedema or keep it under control by following the tips below. Make sure that you take good care of the skin on your arm and hand. Your skin acts as a barrier to keep out bacteria and prevent infection. It is also important not to overuse the muscles in the arm. And don't expose your arm to very hot or cold temperatures.
Lymphedema can happen soon after breast cancer treatment. Or it may happen many years later. It may affect only part of your arm or hand. In some cases, it affects all of the arm. Make sure to follow these precautions even after you finish treatment. Do not ignore tightness or swelling in or around your arm or hand. You are less likely to have long-term problems if you get these symptoms treated right away.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter G546 in the search box to learn more about "Preventing Lymphedema After Treatment for Breast Cancer: Care Instructions".
Current as of: July 26, 2016
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
© 2006-2017 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.