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What you need to know about Lymphedema & Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer: Lymphedema After Treatment


How is lymphedema diagnosed?

There are no tests for lymphedema. Instead, your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history and give you a physical exam. You’ll be asked about:

  • Past surgeries you’ve had
  • Any problems after your surgeries
  • When the swelling started
  • If you’ve had severe swelling (edema) in the past
  • What medicines you’re taking
  • What other health conditions you have, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes

Imaging tests, measures of volume, blood tests, and other tests may be used to diagnose lymphedema.

Treatment for lymphedema

Treatment depends on how severe the problem is. Treatment includes ways to help prevent and manage the condition, and may include:

  • Exercise. Exercise helps improve lymph drainage. Specific exercises will be advised by your doctor or physical therapist.
  • Bandages. Wearing a compression sleeve or elastic bandage may help to move fluid, and prevent the buildup of fluid.
  • Diet and weight management. Eating a healthy diet and controlling body weight is an important part of treatment.
  • Keeping the arm raised. Raising the arm above the level of the heart when possible lets gravity help drain the fluid.
  • Preventing infection. It’s important to protect the skin in the affected area from drying, cracking, infection and skin breakdown. Your healthcare provider will advise you about how to care for your skin and nails to help prevent problems.
  • Massage therapy. Massage by someone trained in lymphedema treatment can help move fluid out of the swollen area.

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