Lymphedema: who's at risk, how it's treated, where to find information

Monday, November 8, 2010; 3:08 PM

Exercise helps, but not always

Experts say you are at risk of lymphedema if you've had surgery or radiation for breast cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer or ovarian, vulvar or uterine cancer.

Typical symptoms include a size discrepancy between your arms, legs, fingers or toes, notable swelling in your limbs, feelings of tightness, heaviness or tingling in an arm or a leg, restricted range of motion and skin thickening.

Treatment might involve a combination of non-strenuous exercises, special bandages and compression garments, a special massage of the lymph system given by a certified therapist and a very intensive physical therapy protocol that includes a manual technique to help lymph drainage. If these approaches fail, microsurgical options are available.

Prevention may be possible by avoiding injections or blood draws on the side of your body where the surgery was done; avoiding having your blood pressure taken on the affected side; keeping your skin clean and moist; avoiding heavy lifting; avoiding injuries, insect bites, sunburns or scratches; keeping the affected side elevated when possible; avoiding extreme temperatures; not using tight jewelry or elastic bands; and eating a healthful diet rich in protein and low in salt.

Some online resources for further information:




- Ranit Mishori

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