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Managing the Visible Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatments

Visible side effects of breast cancer treatments: Lymphedema

Lymphedema is swelling in the arm on the side where you've had breast or lymph node surgery. It can also occur following radiation. Lymphedema happens when lymphatic fluid doesn't drain properly. It can be a temporary side effect or it can permanently and dramatically affect your quality of life. You can often reduce its impact if you catch it early. To lessen its impact and reduce the risk of infection:

  • Don't ignore any swelling you have in your arm.
  • Avoid injury to the skin of an affected arm.
  • Wear gloves when gardening or doing housework.
  • Avoid extreme water temperature changes.
  • Keep your arm protected from the sun.
  • Avoid venipuncture on an affected arm.
  • Don't carry heavy handbags or wear heavy jewelry on the affected side.

Because of swelling, lymphedema may affect the type of clothing you can wear. In addition to an elastic compression sleeve used to control swelling, you may need to wear more loose-fitting clothing.

Ask your doctor for a referral to a certified lymphedema therapist who can show you safe exercises and other techniques to help prevent or reduce swelling.

Visible side effects of breast cancer treatments: Weight gain or loss

With breast cancer treatment, you may have either weight loss or weight gain. Weight loss may be the result of nausea, vomiting, or appetite changes. Weight gain is sometimes caused by eating different foods than usual, being less active, becoming depressed, or going through early menopause, which can result from endocrine treatment.

Tips for managing weight gain or loss

Whatever you do, now is not the time to diet. Nutritious, balanced meals are important to maintain weight and energy levels and to help with healing. These are a few guidelines that may help:

  • Eat plenty of protein, but limit saturated fat, sugar, alcohol, and salt.
  • Eat smaller meals more often throughout the day, especially if you are nauseous.
  • Exercise to help with weight control and maintain appetite. Exercise helps with other side effects, too, such as fatigue or depression.
  • Find an exercise partner to help you stick with a routine. Even a few minutes a day can make a positive difference in how you feel.

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