Breast Cancer: Side Effects of Treatment: Lymphedema

Quick GuideUnderstanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, and More

Understanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, and More

What Happens After My Breast Cancer Surgery?

Lymphedema develops after breast surgery because there is an alteration in the pathway that drains the fluids involved in the immune system. It can occur at any time after the surgery. If untreated, it can become worse.

Following surgery, a physician will examine you and take arm measurements. Sometimes, there may be redness or pain in the arm, which may be a sign of inflammation. Depending on your symptoms, your physician will then consider the best treatment options for you.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lymphedema?

If you suspect any of the symptoms of lymphedema listed below, call your health care provider right away. Prompt treatment can help get the condition under control.

  • Swelling in the arms, hands, fingers, shoulders, chest, or legs. The swelling may occur for the first time after a traumatic event (such as bruises, cuts, sunburn, and sports injuries), after an infection in the part of the body that was treated for cancer, or after an airplane trip lasting more than three hours.

  • A "full" or heavy sensation in the arms or legs.

  • Skin tightness.

  • Decreased flexibility in the hand, wrist, or ankle.

  • Difficulty fitting into clothing in one specific area.

  • Tight-fitting bracelet, watch, or ring that wasn't tight before.

How Is Lymphedema Diagnosed?

Lymphedema is diagnosed after a careful evaluation of your medical history, including past surgeries and treatments, an evaluation of current medications and symptoms, and a complete physical exam. Sometimes, additional tests may be needed.

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