Breast Cancer and Lymphedema: Reducing your Risk of Developing Lymphedema

October is breast cancer awareness month so I thought I would focus this post on helpful tips to reduce your risk of lymphedema post breast cancer treatment.
If you are a breast cancer survivor, like I am, you most likely had some form of treatment that damaged your lymphatic system. Any single or combination of the following treatment options ultimately damages the ability to properly transport lymph fluid throughout your body; radiation therapy, sentinel node biopsy and/or axillary node dissection. Unfortunately, after any one of these treatments, the patient then has a lifetime risk of developing lymphedema. Yes, it sucks, but there are some fairly easy things you can do to help reduce your risk.

  1. Manual Lymphatic Drainage – you don’t need to have lymphedema to have a lymphatic drainage massage. MLD helps to promote movement and drainage of lymphatic fluid. For those who already have compromised systems, your system may be working overtime to compensate for the damaged nodes and vessels. This is a great way to give your lymphatic system a helping hand to ensure that fluid is being moved.

  2. Keep your skin healthy – It’s all about keeping your skin free from infection. Make sure that you keep your limbs clean and moisturized. Use a pH neutral moisturiser to prevent skin from cracking. If you do have cracked skin or you get a cut, make sure to clean and apply an antibiotic ointment to reduce the incidence of infection. Remember that sunscreen is your friend as well.

  3. Keep yourself moving – Movement, contracting your skeletal muscles, activates your lymphatic system to promote lymph fluid to move along it’s drainage pathways. Deep breathing helps to promote lymph movement too.

  4. Weight Management – You’ll want to ensure that you keep yourself at a healthy weight as we all know is good for our general health, it can also reduce the risk of lymphedema.

  5. Wear compression garments with air travel – The pressure changes in an aircraft during flight can increase swelling. If you are at risk of lymphedema wearing a compression garment prophylactically (preventatively) to the affected limb (the limb where the nodes were removed or radiated) can help apply the appropriate pressure to ensure that swelling is minimized.

Keep in mind that sometimes, even if you followed all of the proper protocols to help reduce your risk, you may still develop lymphedema. Don’t be discouraged. Early diagnosis is key. There are Lymphedema treatments and techniques to help you with managing your Lymphedema symptoms.
To understand a bit more about the lymphatic system, click here.
If you have any questions about if MLD is suitable for you and your condition, do not hesitate to contact us at
Karen Kingsley
Registered Massage Therapist
Dr Vodder School International
Lymphedema Association of Ontario

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