Lymphedema: What Every Woman With Breast Cancer Should Know

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For women who have lymphedema

Check the tips in the “For women at risk for lymphedema” section. They can be useful to women with lymphedema, too.

When you develop lymphedema, there are treatments to help reduce the swelling, keep it from getting worse, and decrease the risk of infection. The treatment is prescribed by your doctor and should be given by an experienced therapist. Be sure to check your health insurance to make sure the treatment is covered.

Mild lymphedema should be treated by a physical therapist or other health care professional who has had special training.

Moderate or severe lymphedema is most often treated by a therapist with special training and expertise who will help you with skin care, massage, special bandaging, exercises, and fitting for a compression garment. This is sometimes known as complex decongestive therapy, or CDT. Manual lymphatic drainage, or MLD, is the type of massage used as part of CDT to manage lymphedema. The therapist will also teach you things like how to care for the lymphedema at home and how and when to wear the compression garment.

Although most insurance companies will pay for lymphedema treatment, some don’t cover the cost of compression garments and dressings. Check with your health insurance company.

Seeking and getting treatment for lymphedema early should lead to a shorter course of treatment to control it. Again, it’s important to notice changes right away and get help as soon as possible.

Lymphedema can and should be treated right away to keep it from getting worse.


Last Medical Review: 07/10/2015
Last Revised: 07/10/2015