Breast Cancer and Lymphedema (cont.)

What Can I Do if I Already Have Lymphedema?

To help decrease the risk of further swelling, continue following the recommendations for preventing lymphedema listed above. In addition:

  • Avoid extreme temperature changes. Do not use hot tubs, whirlpools, saunas or steam baths. Use warm, rather than very hot, water when bathing or washing dishes. Always wear sun protection (at least SPF 15) when going outdoors.


  • When traveling by air, ask your health care provider if you should wear a compression sleeve on your affected arm or a stocking on your affected leg. For long flights, additional bandages may be needed. Talk to your health care provider before traveling.


  • When sitting or sleeping, elevate your affected arm or leg on pillows. Avoid prolonged lying on your affected side.


  • Your doctor may refer you to an occupational therapist who specializes in managing lymphedema. The therapist will assess your condition and develop an individual treatment plan to manage your lymphedema.


  • Therapy may include specific exercises or a complete exercise program, limitation of certain activities that are vigorous or repetitive, and recommendations for a compression sleeve, bandages, manual lymph drainage and possibly a pump.


  • Continue to see your health-care provider for frequent follow-up visits, as recommended.

What Is the Outlook for Lymphedema?

Lymphedema cannot be cured. However, with proper care and treatment, the affected limb can be restored to a normal size and shape. In addition, lymphedema can be treated and controlled so that it does not progress further.

If left untreated, lymphedema can lead to increased swelling and a hardening of the tissue, resulting in decreased function and mobility in the affected limb. It can also lead to chronic infections and other illnesses.

It is important to receive treatment promptly if you recognize symptoms of lymphedema.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arnold Wax, MD, on June 20, 2009


Last Editorial Review: 6/20/2009

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Source article on WebMD


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