Treating lymphedema
Treating lymphedema
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Lymphedema Management

Surgical treatment of breast cancer may include the removal of lymph nodes from under the arm. This can result in lymphedema or chronic swelling of the arm.

Know the early signs of lymphedema:

  • Heavy feeling in arm, hand, chest or breast
  • Achiness, soreness or pain
  • Pulling sensation
  • Swelling (may come and go)
  • Bra, rings or bracelets feel tighter
  • Pressing the skin leaves an indented spot
  • Skin is reddened
  • Skin feels warm or tight
  • Increase in numbness or tingling
  • Decreased flexibility at shoulder, elbow, wrist or fingers


Roper St. Francis Cancer Care takes a multi-disciplinary approach to treating lymphedema including massage, microsurgical and radiology techniques.

The purpose of the massage is to create spaces in the tissues and then massage the fluid into these spaces and away from the limb. The massage should start where the limb attaches to the trunk and the lymphatics are relatively normal. The lymphedema therapist massages fluid away from the affected area toward the trunk. The therapist then works gradually towards the hand or foot. Therapy may need to continue for some weeks until the decrease in swelling is satisfactory.

Lymph Node Transplant
Some patients may be candidates for vascular lymph node transfers, a surgical treatment in which lymph nodes from an unaffected area of the body are transplanted to the area of the affected limb. Many patients who undergo surgery will experience a reduction in swelling of the affected limb, have fewer symptoms and may see results that render lymphatic massage, banding and compressive garments no longer necessary.

Learn more about lymphedema and treatment options visit or contact our Breast Nurse Navigator at