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What You Should Know

Lymphedema is a condition of localized fluid retention and tissue swelling that can occur after treatment for cancer and node dissection. It can develop at any time, including years later. Knowing how to protect yourself and following some simple precautions can decrease your risk of lymphedema.

PREVENTION is the goal.  Early RECOGNITION and immediate treatment are important.

Try to Avoid

Trauma to the skin. Broken skin invites germs and infection. If your skin is broken, clean it immediately and use an antibiotic ointment.

Some everyday situations to consider:

Cuts/Breaks in the Skin

  • Use gloves for gardening and housework, including washing dishes. 
  • Use a thimble for sewing.
  • Use an electric razor.
  • Never use depilatory creams.
  • Avoid cutting cuticles.
  • Avoid pet claws.
  • Always wear footwear,
  • Avoid underwire bras.
  • No injections, blood draws or IVs from the affected limb – inform all health care providers every time.
  • Avoid burns and sunburns.
  • Use pot holders around the stove or grill to avoid burns.
  • Use sunscreen all year.
  • Avoid bug bites – mosquitoes and bees. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants.
  • Avoid use of saunas or hot tubs.

Avoid binding or squeezing of affected limb

  • No blood pressures should be taken on the affected arm – inform all health care providers every time
  • Avoid tight-fitting jewelry and clothing around the wrist and leg.

Helpful Hints

Skin Care:

The skin is your barrier against infection. Keep it healthy!

  • Keep skin clean, supple and moist.
  • Use plenty of moisturizer such as Keri, Curel, Eucerin.
  • Vitamin E can help soften scars.
  • Castor oil can help with skin healing after radiation.
  • Drink plenty of water.

A compression sleeve is helpful for the following:

  • Airplane travel.
  • Repetitive activities such as housework or house maintenance, yard work, exercise.
  • Lifting activities of more than 5-7 pounds.

Other Suggestions

  • Be proactive and keep a first aid kit with you at all times to treat injuries to the skin: alcohol wipes, antibiotic ointment, Band-Aid should be applied immediately to any cuts, scratches, etc.
  • Antihistamines may help at the first signs of lymphedema.
  • Have antibiotics on hand when traveling in case of cellulitis (saves time in case of an emergency). Cellulitis is redness, pain, swelling or warmth in your affected limb. Contact your physician as soon as possible!
  • Wear a medical alert bracelet to alert health care providers to avoid performing tests on the affected arm or leg.

Early Symptoms of Lymphedema

If you experience any of these symptoms contact your physician immediately:

  • Tightness or swelling.
  • Inability to wear rings or watches due to swelling.
  • Sensation of heaviness or achiness in your arm or leg.
  • Burning or a tingling sensation radiating down the extremity (arm or leg). 

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