Lymphedema, a critical side effect of both surgery and radiation, can occur whenever there is a disruption to the lymphatic system, which filters and cleans the tissue fluid. Lymphedema causes the fluids just to settle somewhere and cause swelling. Breast cancer patients are at greater risk for lymphedema because of the damage to or removal of one or more lymph nodes. Dealing with lymphedema early is critical to getting it and keeping it under control.

  • See an occupational therapist as soon as possible after surgery and radiation. Therapists use massage to move fluids and work on fibrosis (thickening of tissue similar to scar tissue).
  • Wear compression sleeves and gauntlets (gloves) to force fluids through the body.
  • Avoid hot tubs and saunas.
  • Avoid trauma to the affected side – needle sticks, etc.