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Lymphedema And Breast Cancer In Women

How To Reduce Swelling After Surgery Or Radiation

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© American Cancer Society 2010

Right after surgery, the affected arm or breast area may swell. This swelling is usually short-term and slowly goes away over the next 6 to 12 weeks. These tips may help ease the swelling during this time:

  • Use your affected arm as you normally would to do things like comb your hair, bathe, dress, and eat.
  • Raise your affected arm above the level of your heart 2 or 3 times a day and keep it there for 45 minutes. Lie down to do this, and fully support your arm. Put your arm up on pillows so that your hand is higher than your wrist and your elbow is a little higher than your shoulder.
  • Exercise your affected arm while it is supported above the level of your heart by opening and closing your hand 15 to 25 times. Repeat this 3 to 4 times a day. This exercise helps reduce swelling by pumping lymph fluid out of the arm through the undamaged lymph vessels.
  • To get back your normal shoulder and arm movement, begin exercising your affected arm about a week after your surgery. But talk to your doctor, nurse, or physical therapist before doing any exercises. For most people, normal range of motion returns within 4 to 6 weeks.
  • If you have radiation therapy after surgery, it may cause arm swelling or make the swelling last longer than it normally would after surgery. It may also cause some swelling in the chest and breast toward the end of the treatment. In most cases, this swelling is short-term and will slowly go away. During treatment and up to 18 months afterward, you should do simple stretching exercises each day to keep full movement in your chest, arm, and shoulder.

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