If you're at risk of developing secondary lymphedema, you can take measures to help prevent it. If you've had or are going to have cancer surgery, ask your doctor whether your particular procedure will involve your lymph nodes or lymph vessels. Ask if your radiation treatment will be aimed at any of your lymph nodes, so you'll be aware of the possible risks.

To reduce your risk of lymphedema, try to:

  • Protect your arm or leg. Avoid any injury to your affected limb. Cuts, scrapes and burns can all invite infection, which can result in lymphedema. Protect yourself from sharp objects. For example, shave with an electric razor, wear gloves when you garden or cook, and use a thimble when you sew. If possible, avoid medical procedures, such as blood draws and vaccinations, in your affected limb.
  • Rest your arm or leg while recovering. After cancer treatment, avoid heavy activity with that limb. Early exercise and stretching are encouraged, but avoid strenuous activity until you've recovered from surgery or radiation.
  • Avoid heat on your arm or leg. Don't apply heat, such as with a heating pad, to your affected limb.
  • Elevate your arm or leg. When you get a chance, elevate your affected limb above the level of your heart, if possible.
  • Avoid tight clothing. Avoid anything that could constrict your arm or leg, such as tightfitting clothing and, in the case of your arm, blood pressure readings. Ask that your blood pressure be taken in your other arm.
  • Keep your arm or leg clean. Make skin care and nail care high priorities. Inspect the skin on your arm or leg every day, keeping watch for changes or breaks in your skin that could lead to infection. Don't go barefoot outdoors.
Nov. 15, 2011