If your lymphatic system has been damaged or compromised because of cancer treatments, you could be at risk for lymphedema. Lymphedema is a buildup of fluid in soft tissue due to a blockage in the lymphatic system. People who have undergone treatment for cancer are particularly at risk, especially when lymph nodes have been removed or radiation treatment was used. While there is no absolute way to prevent this condition, it is possible to lessen your risk or lessen the severity if it does occur.
Here are some ways to lessen your risk of Lymphedema:
Maintain a healthy weight. Obese women have an increased risk for lymphedema.
Watch for even slight signs of swelling or change in size, color, temperature or feeling of the arm and chest. Contact your doctor at the first sign of these symptoms.
Avoid sitting or standing for too long. Change position often. An upright position drains your lymphatic system.
Avoid infections. The body responds to infection by sending extra fluids and white blood cells to fight it. When the lymphatic system is damaged it has to work overtime, which can trigger or worsen lymphedema. Treat cuts, burns and bug bites very carefully.
Avoid constriction to ensure that the affected arm gets proper circulation. This includes wearing loose-fitting clothing and jewelry. Avoid underwire bras, or bras that compromise circulation. Do not carry a purse or bag on the affected arm.
Avoid heavy lifting or excessive pressure on the affected arm. Limit lifting to less than 15 lbs.
Have any injections, vaccinations, blood draws or IV’s performed on your unaffected arm. Blood pressure should be measured on this arm as well. Be sure to inform the person who is drawing blood or performing the injection that you are at risk for lymphedema.
Limit exposure to extreme heat or cold. Avoid hot tubs and saunas. Restrict hot showers to 15 minutes and be aware of temperature changes when washing dishes. Do NOT apply heat or cold to the affected arm!
Dr. Elisabeth Potter is a cosmetic surgeon specializing in breast reconstructive surgery. She is passionate about educating the public on the prevention, treatment, and recovery from cancer. Call her office today at 512.324.8320 for more information about her services, or to schedule an appointment.