Home Care Instructions: Lymphedema Prevention

What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is an accumulation of fluid that causes swelling of an extremity. It occurs after trauma to or removal of the lymph nodes.

Who is at Risk?

Anyone who has a lymph node dissection and, often, radiation therapy, is at risk of developing lymphedema. Lymphedema can occur immediately after surgery or within a few months, a few years, or more than 20 years afterward. Take extra care of your arm on the affected side to prevent lymphedema (swelling) in that arm.

How to Reduce Risks

  • Avoid skin trauma (burns, cuts, insects, etc.).
  • Wear gloves when cleaning or gardening.
  • Avoid excess exposure to the sun.
  • Use moisturizing cream on hands and cuticles.
  • Offer the other arm for all injections and blood draws.
  • Prevent excessive binding on the affected arm (i.e. blood pressure cuff).
  • Clothing and jewelry should be non-restrictive.
  • Do not shave your underarms or use deodorant until advised by your physician.
  • Activities such as swimming, tennis, golf, and fishing are all good exercise. You should be able to return to these activities a few weeks after surgery. Check with your physician for approval when your incision is well healed.
  • A compression garment or sleeve may be recommended by your physician or physical therapist and worn as an extra measure to prevent swelling or to stabilize an already swollen arm.


An exercise program should be followed at least twice daily for 6-8 weeks following surgery to prevent loss of mobility and muscle weakness. Your surgeon will decide when it is an appropriate time for you to start an exercise program. If you follow the prescribed program daily, you should have no permanent disability as a result of the surgery.

When to Call the Doctor

If you notice redness, increased temperature, rash, blistering or swelling of the affected arm or leg, call your doctor immediately.