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Lymphedema

What it is

Swelling in an arm or a leg caused by a build up of lymph fluid. Lymphedema can happen if your lymph nodes were removed during surgery or damaged by radiation therapy. Tell your doctor or nurse if you notice swelling in the arm or leg on the side where you had radiation.

 

Ways to manage

  • Meet with your doctor or nurse. Ask about your risk of lymphedema and ways to prevent it. Your doctor or nurse may suggest exercises, medicines, or compression garments (special wraps to put on your legs or arms). You might also want to ask for a referral to a physical therapist.
  • Be active. Exercise can help prevent and treat lymphedema. Ask your doctor, nurse, or physical therapist which exercises are safe for you to do.
  • Take care of your arm or leg.
    • Use skin lotion at least once a day.
    • Avoid sunburn. Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and wear long sleeves and long pants if you need to be in the sun.
    • Wear gloves when you garden or cook.
    • Clip your toenails straight across, file your fingernails, and do not cut your cuticles.
    • Keep your feet clean and wear dry, cotton socks.
    • Clean cuts with soap and water and then use antibacterial ointment.
    • Avoid extreme hot or cold, such as ice packs or heating pads.
    • Do not put pressure on your arm or leg. For example, do not cross your legs when sitting or carry your purse on the side that had radiation.
    • Wear loose clothes that do not have tight elastic cuffs or waistbands.
  • Notice early signs of lymphedema. Let your doctor or nurse know if you have:
    • Pain or a sense of heaviness in your arm or leg
    • A feeling of tightness in your arm or leg
    • Trouble putting on your shoes or rings
    • Weakness in your arm or leg
    • Redness, swelling, or other signs of infection