Breast Cancer and Lymphedema (cont.)

How Is Lymphedema Treated?

Lymphedema treatments vary, depending on the stage and cause of the illness. The most important aspect of treatment is learning how to care for your health. Your doctor or nurse will teach you and your family how to follow your prescribed treatment.

If the initial signs and symptoms of swelling are caused by infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. Other treatments may include bandaging, proper skin care and diet, compression garments, exercises, and manual lymphatic drainage, a gentle form of skin stretching/massage.

How Can I Help Prevent Lymphedema?

Lymphedema can be prevented or controlled if it develops by following the recommendations below.

Maintain good nutrition

  • Reduce foods high in salt and fat.


  • Include at least two to four servings of fruits and three to five servings of vegetables in your daily meal plan.


  • Eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need.


  • Use the package label information to help you to make the best selections for a healthy lifestyle.


  • Eat foods high in fiber such as whole-grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fresh fruits, and vegetables.


  • Drink plenty of water.


  • Maintain your ideal body weight. A registered dietitian or your health care provider can help calculate your ideal body weight.


  • Avoid alcoholic beverages.

Exercise regularly

  • Always check with your doctor first before starting a new exercise program.


  • To improve cardiovascular fitness, you should perform aerobic activities (including walking, swimming, low-impact aerobics or specially prescribed exercises) for 20 to 30 minutes at least three times a week.


  • Take time to include a five-minute warm-up, including stretching exercises, before any aerobic activity and include a five to 10-minute cool down after the activity.


  • If your normal exercise routine includes weight lifting with your arms, check with your doctor about the best time to resume this activity and if there are any weight restrictions.


  • Discontinue any exercise that causes unexpected pain. If your arm or leg (on the side where you had surgery) becomes tired during exercise, cool down, then rest and elevate it.

Avoid infections

  • Wear gloves while doing housework or gardening.


  • Avoid cutting your cuticles when manicuring your nails. Use care when cutting your toenails.


  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water, especially before preparing food, and after using the bathroom or after touching soiled linens or clothes.


  • Protect your skin from scratches, sores, burns and other irritations that might lead to infection. Use electric razors to remove hair and replace the razor head frequently.


  • Use insect repellents to prevent bug bites.


  • Immediately report any signs of infection to your physician.

Stay alert for signs of infection

  • Fever over 100 degrees F (38 degrees C)


  • Sweats or chills


  • Skin rash


  • Pain, tenderness, redness or swelling


  • Wound or cut that won't heal


  • Red, warm or draining sore


  • Sore throat, scratchy throat or pain when swallowing


  • Sinus drainage, nasal congestion, headaches or tenderness along upper cheekbones


  • Persistent dry or moist cough that lasts more than two days


  • White patches in your mouth or on your tongue


  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea


  • Flu-like symptoms (chills, aches, headache or fatigue) or generally feeling "lousy"


  • Trouble urinating: pain or burning, constant urge, or frequent urination


  • Bloody, cloudy, or foul-smelling urine

Avoid tight clothing, shoes or jewelry

  • Women should wear well-fitted bras; bra straps should not be too tight, avoid underwire styles, and wear pads under the bra straps if necessary. Wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes and avoid tight hosiery. Wear watches or jewelry loosely, if at all, on the affected arm.

Avoid heavy lifting with the affected arm (even a purse or bag)

  • Also avoid repetitive movements of the affected arm (such as scrubbing, pushing or pulling). Do not carry a purse or bag on your shoulder (the side where you had surgery).

Keep your skin meticulously clean

  • Dry your skin thoroughly (including creases and between fingers and toes) and apply lotion.

Take precautions during visits to your doctor

  • Ask to have your blood pressure checked on the unaffected arm. And avoid injections or blood drawing on the surgical side if possible.

Inform your doctor of any symptoms

  • Notify your doctor if you have redness, swelling, a skin rash or blistering on the side of your body where you had surgery, or if you have a temperature over 100 degrees F (38 degrees C). These warning signs of infection could be an early sign of lymphedema and should be treated immediately.

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