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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Lymphedema After Breast Cancer Surgery

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How Is It Diagnosed?

Your doctor will look into your medical history (including past surgeries and treatments) and your current medications and symptoms. She'll also give you a complete physical exam. She might ask you to take other tests, too, like an MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound to check for fluid build-up.

How Is Lymphedema Treated?

It depends on how bad the swelling is and its cause.

If an infection's to blame, for example, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

Other treatments can include bandaging, proper skin care and diet, compression garments, exercises, and manual lymphatic drainage, a gentle form of skin stretching and massage.

Get treated ASAP to nip potential problems in the bud. If you don't get medical care for lymphedema, it can lead to more swelling and a hardening of the tissue -- and that can impact how well your affected limb moves and works. It can also lead to infections and other illnesses.

How Can I Avoid Getting Lymphedema?

Take good care of yourself to lower your odds of getting the condition.

Get Good Nutrition

  • Cut back on foods high in salt and fat.
  • Have at least two to four servings of fruits and three to five servings of vegetables each day.
  • Eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need.
  • Use the package label information to make healthy choices.
  • Get fiber from whole-grain versions of breads, cereals, pasta, and rice. Fruit and veggies are good sources too.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Stay at your ideal body weight. A registered dietitian or your doctor can calculate it.
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks.

Exercise Regularly

First, check with your doctor before you start a new exercise program.

Depending on what he gives you the OK to do, you could take walks, swim, or do low-impact aerobics like biking -- all of which are aerobic workouts that get your heart pumping. Your care team might also give you specially prescribed exercises. Whatever you do, aim to get 30 minutes of exercise a day at least 5 days a week.

Include a 5-minute warm-up before any aerobic activity, and take 5-10 minutes to cool down after your workout.

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