Breast Cancer

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After Treatment TOPICS

Lymphedema after breast cancer treatment

Lymphedema, or swelling of the arm from buildup of fluid, may occur any time after treatment for breast cancer. Any treatment that removes the axillary lymph nodes or gives radiation to the axillary lymph nodes carries the risk of lymphedema because normal drainage of lymph fluid from the arm is changed.

One of the first symptoms of lymphedema may be a feeling of tightness in the arm or hand on the same side that was treated for breast cancer. Any swelling, tightness, or injury to the arm or hand should be reported promptly to your doctor or nurse.

There is no good way to predict who will and will not develop lymphedema. It can occur right after surgery, or months, or even years later. The possibility of developing lymphedema remains throughout a woman's lifetime.

With care, lymphedema can often be avoided or, if it develops, kept under control. Injury or infection involving the affected arm or hand can contribute to the development of lymphedema or make existing lymphedema worse, so preventive measures should focus on protecting the arm and hand. Most doctors recommend that women avoid having blood drawn from or blood pressures taken on the arm on the side of the lymph node surgery or radiation.

To learn more, see our document Lymphedema: What Every Woman with Breast Cancer Should Know.


Last Medical Review: 09/25/2014
Last Revised: 12/01/2014