If you’ve had lymph nodes removed or had radiation therapy during breast cancer treatment then you are at-risk for lymphedema. There is no true way to determine whether a breast cancer patient will get lymphedema following treatment; lymphedema can occur in patients that have had no lymph nodes removed and are as many as 25 years or more in remission. It is important to be aware of the risk of lymphedema & follow risk reduction practices as recommended by your doctor or physical therapist to reduce lymphedema occurrence and prevent future swelling.
Keep a healthy BMI and diet | Eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruit. Reduce intake of sodium-rich foods that may cause inflammation. Studies show that an above average BMI can increase onset lymphedema risk. See our Healthy Eats board on Pinterest for recipe ideas.
Exercise | As part of a healthy lifestyle, exercising with the at-risk arm is not only completely safe but it is encouraged! With permission from your physician, it is okay to resume your normal exercise routine whether it is running, yoga, weight training or swimming, but be sure to not overexert yourself. Many medical professionals suggest using compression garments when exercising with the at-risk arm to reduce chances of swelling, please consult your doctor to determine what is best for you.
Protect Your Skin | Keep your at-risk arm clean and moisturized. If possible, use a pH balanced soap and lotion. To reduce chances of skin dryness, be sure to moisturize your skin after chlorine exposure when swimming in a pool. Keeping your skin moisturized will reduce risk of cracking due to dryness which can lead to infection/cellulitis and put additional strain on the lymphatic system. In the summer, protect yourself from sunburn by using a UVA/UVB sunblock and limiting your exposure to the sun on the at-risk arm. There are various studies that indicate that exposing the at-risk arm to extreme heat can exacerbate lymphedema risk, consult with your doctor about using hot tubs or saunas. When cooking, try to avoid getting burned especially by hot oil or steam.
Avoid Tourniquets | Restrictive clothing, tight jewelry and blood pressure cuffs can cut off lymphatic fluid from circulating and can exacerbate lymphedema onset. If both arms are at-risk for lymphedema, have blood pressure taken at the thigh.
Avoid Cuts & Scratches |Any puncture to the skin on the at-risk arm can introduce infection, which can be potentially serious and lead to additional swelling or cellulitis. In the medical setting, it is best to avoid having shots given and blood drawn on the at-risk arm. Be sure to take extra care and wear gloves when gardening. Avoid trimming cuticles during manicures to avoid risk of puncture. When hiking, camping, fishing or doing other outdoorsy things; use bug spray and treat any bug bites on the affected arm as soon as possible.