Reducing your risk of arm lymphoedema
Who is at risk?
What are the signs/symptoms to look out for?
What should I do to reduce the risk of developing lymphoedema?
Take care of your skin
- Cleanse and moisturise your arms daily with unscented soap and cream using gentle upward strokes.
- Protect yourself against excessive heat, which can increase swelling, by avoiding hot baths/showers, saunas and extreme temperatures.
- Use nail clippers or emery boards rather than scissors.
- Use electric razors instead of normal razors or hair-removal creams.
Hints and tips - Preventing infection
- Try to avoid cuts, scratches, burns and insect bites and use antiseptic and antifungal creams when necessary. Monitor any cut, no matter how small - even a rag nail.
- Contact your doctor immediately if you notice that your skin has become red, hot and tender, as you may have an infection. This infection is often referred to as cellulitis and it is important to get this treated quickly with antibiotics.
Avoid trauma to your arm
- If possible, never allow injections, blood-taking or blood-pressure cuffs on the at-risk arm.
- Avoid tight, restrictive clothing, such as tight bra straps, watches, etc.
- Slow ‘boxing’, ‘rowing’ or ‘breast-stroke’ type movements.
- Slowly bend and straighten your elbow and wrist.
- Make a fist and then straighten your fingers.
Take care when travelling
- Flying with long periods of inactivity can affect circulation and lymph movement.It may even trigger lymphoedema in people at risk of developing it.
- Stretch and move around as much as possible when travelling.
- There is no evidence to suggest that wearing a compression garment when flying reduces the risk of developing lymphoedema and an inappropriate garment may cause more problems.
- Skincare is very important on holidays so avoid sunburn and insect bites.
- Prevent dehydration by frequently drinking water.
What should I do if I notice swelling?
Hints and tips - Reducing your risk of arm lymphoedema
- Try to use the at-risk arm normally – using the muscles will help to improve lymphatic circulation.
- It is very important to keep your weight within normal limits, as excess weight can increase strain on the lymphatic system.
- Exercise is important, but remember to gradually build up your level of activity over time. In most cases you will be able to continue with the exercises and activities you enjoyed before your cancer treatment.
- Always do a ‘warm up’ and ‘cool down’ before and after exercise. Ask your physiotherapist for advice.
- Avoid over-exertion of the at-risk arm; for example, avoid lifting or carrying heavy objects.
What treatment can I get if I begin to develop lymphoedema?
Call our Cancer Nurseline
Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 6pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm