What You Need to Know

Lymphedema is a chronic condition that results from impaired flow of the lymphatic system. Lymphatic fluid accumulates in your tissues and causes swelling.

It most often affects the limbs, but it can also cause swelling in other parts of the body.

There are two different types of Lymphedema:

Primary Lymphedema is a condition that occurs when lymphatic vessels are missing or damaged, usually present from birth.
Secondary Lymphedemais a condition that occurs when lymph vessels and nodes are removed, damaged or dysfunctional.

Women who have had breast cancer surgery sometimes develop this condition.
Lymphedema can cause swelling of the arm, breast, or chest from the build-up of Lymphatic  fluid. It may occur any time after treatment for breast cancer, even months or years later. Any treatment that involves axillary (arm pit) lymph node surgery or radiation to the lymph nodes carries the risk of Lymphedema.

Breast/Chest Lymphedema is a problem that may occur after surgery and treatment of breast cancer. Swelling or inflammation of the breast, or chest wall, on the side in which the surgery was done should be a concern and you should visit with your health care professional to discuss..

Lymphedema of the arm is a problem that may occur after surgery and treatment of breast cancer. Some of the initial symptoms may be a feeling of tightness in the arm or hand on the same side that was treated for breast cancer. A “heavy feeling” in the arm is another common sign. Any swelling, tightness, or injury to the arm or hand should be reported promptly to your doctor or nurse.

Lymphedema occurs in about 20% of people who have had lymph nodes removed.

There is no cure for Lymphedema however compression garments, treatments by a manual lymph drainage therapist and physical therapy may help greatly to reduce swelling and discomfort.


Guidelines to reduce the risk of Lymphedema or for those who have had lymph nodes removed or radiation for breast surgery.

Avoid infection -Give blood in the non affected arm. Keep skin clean. Protect for scratches and cuts if possible.

Avoid burns -Protect arms from sunburn. Avoid burns from splashing grease or steam. Do not use Hot Tubs and saunas unless otherwise directed.

Keep skin protected -Use moisturizers and soap that are PH balanced. Protect hands with gloves while cleaning or gardening.

Avoid using shoulder straps –Carry purses and computer bags etc. on the other arm.

Avoid restrictive clothing –Blood pressure should be taken on the non affected side. Do not wear restrictive jewellery

Avoid muscle strain – exercise and normal activity is very good for you. Just do not over do it.

Eat healthy –Maintaining a healthy weight reduces your risk for developing Lymphedema. Eat less sodium.


Watch for:

  • A feeling of fullness in your arm (some say a heavy feeling.)
  • A difference in size between the affected arm and the non-affected arm.
  • Weakness or not being able to move it as well as you used to.
  • If you press your fingers into the affected arm and leave there for 20 seconds,  the impression of the fingers remain.