What should you look out for after breast cancer surgery?

Breast and trunk swelling can occur following breast cancer surgeries and radiation therapy.  However, identifying and managing edema and lymphedema in these areas can be difficult. 

Following breast cancer surgery, you will notice some swelling in the arm and chest area.  This will usually subside after 3 months.  If swelling in your arm, hand, breast, or chest develop it is recommended to seek advice from a healthcare professional.

Early intervention may prevent fibrotic changes in the breast and trunk:

  • Complete decongestive therapy with an emphasis on manual lymph drainage from a lymphedema therapist,
  • A supportive well-fitted lightly compressive bra like the Bellisse® to help facilitate drainage of lymphatic fluid and
  • Pads such as our JoViPak pads for axilla, breast, or trunk if needed may also help with symptom relief

What symptoms should you watch out for?

  • Tightness or Heaviness in the arm or breast can be sign that extra fluid is retained in the tissues. Feeling tightness is not always associated with swelling and gentle exercise can relieve the discomfort.
  • Dry Skin can be a result of swelling and the skin stretching becoming dry and flaky. It is important to take good care of dry skin to reduce the chance of cracking, increasing the risk of infections.
  • Arm Stiffness or limited range of motion may be a sign of arm swelling. It is important exercise the affected area to help reduce swelling and stiffness. Avoid movements that strain your arm or keep it in the same position for a prolonged period.  Physiotherapy can also be helpful.
  • Clothing and jewelry feeling tighter than usual.
  • Aching or discomfort in your arm, chest, breast, back, shoulder. Consult with a healthcare professional right away.


Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is a massage technique that stimulates the lymphatic flow and assists in moving and eliminating excess fluid. These gentle, skin stretching movements transport fluid from swollen areas to areas that are draining well.  MLD should only be performed by a certified therapists that are trained in the techniques and have knowledge of the disease. MLD is not suitable for everyone so always refer to your healthcare professional to make sure MLD is right for you.

Listen to your body, if you are experiencing any of these signs or symptoms see a healthcare professional right away.  Early treatment and intervention are the keys.  Lymphedema is a progressive disease and the changes that occur as it progresses are more difficult to treat. You know your body and when you see anything out of the ordinary act quickly

Read more on lymphedema after breast cancer.

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