Breast Cancer Home > Breast Cancer Surgery
The lymph nodes under your arm drain lymph fluid from your chest and arm. Both surgery and radiation therapy can change the normal drainage pattern. This can result in a swelling of the arm called lymphedema. The problem can develop right after breast cancer surgery or months to years later.
If lymphedema occurs, the doctor may suggest raising your arm above your heart whenever you can. The doctor may show you hand and arm exercises. Some women with lymphedema wear an elastic sleeve to improve lymph circulation. Medication, manual lymph drainage (massage), or use of a machine that gently compresses the arm may also help. You may be referred to a physical therapist or another specialist.
There is no cure for this condition, so you should do what you can to prevent it.
You should ask your doctor how to handle any cuts, insect bites, sunburn, or other injuries to your arm or hand. Also, you should contact the doctor if your arm or hand is injured, swells, or becomes red and warm.
After underarm lymph nodes are removed, your arm will have to be protected for the rest of your life. To help prevent or control lymphedema and to protect your arm after treatment:
- Carry packages or handbags on the other arm or shoulder.
- Avoid sunburns and burns to your affected arm and hand.
- Have shots (including chemotherapy), blood draws, and blood pressure tests done on the other arm.
- Avoid cuts when shaving underarms; use an electric shaver.
- Wash cuts promptly, apply antibacterial medication, and cover with a bandage. Call your doctor if you think that you have an infection.
- Wear gloves to protect your hands when gardening and when using strong detergents.
- Avoid wearing tight jewelry on your affected arm; avoid elastic cuffs on blouses and nightgowns.
- Have careful manicures; avoid cutting your cuticles.