Ami manages her lymphedema with style.

Routine treatment for breast cancer often includes surgical removal of lymph nodes and/or radiation to the chest area, which can interfere with the body’s ability to drain lymph fluid. Buildup of the fluid may cause painful swelling in the arm, hand, chest, back or breast on the affected side of the body; this is a chronic condition known as lymphedema. It may develop weeks, months, or even years after treatment.

Often, women are never told about their risk for lymphedema and, as a result, fail to take some of the basic precautions to avoid developing this condition, such as carrying heavy items with the unaffected arm, keeping skin clean and avoiding any injuries such as insect bites, cuts, and burns (including sun burn) to the affected arm, treating cuts with antibiotic cream, and alerting your doctor at the first sign of infection. You can learn about additional precautions and the debate regarding some of them by visiting the National Lymphedema Network at

Listen to your body. With immediate intervention, lymphedema can be effectively managed and the symptoms minimized. Having fewer lymph nodes removed may reduce risk, but even if you’ve only had a sentinel node biopsy, you should e alert to the symptoms below and contact your doctor if you experience any of these:

  • a heavy feeling, tight sensation, pressure, or swelling in your arm or hand
  • clothing or jewelry that feels tight
  • skin that leaves a thumbprint when pressed
  • redness and inflammation
  • a “pins-and-needles” sensation or a feeling of heat in the limb
  • aching in the limb, shoulder, or shoulder blade

If you have had surgical removal of any lymph nodes or had radiation as part of your treatment for breast cancer, talk to your doctor about how to reduce your risk of lymphedema. You still can and should exercise. Just ask your doctor if there are any limitations or accommodations that should be made to your exercise routine.

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Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. — Lao Tzu