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Precautions for Lymphedema

Precautions for Lymphedema

December 14, 2021
Everett Bonner, MD
Everett Bonner, MD

Breast Surgery

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A lot of patients are worried when we do lymph node dissections or the sentinel lymph node biopsy, “What are my chances of lymphedema?” Well, the fortunate thing is the chances are very low. In fact, a patient who has had all their lymph nodes removed, which we call an axillary lymph node dissection, it’s about a 15% chance that they’re going to get lymphedema. Some patients worry about even if they get a sentinel lymph node biopsy, “What are my chances?” Those chances are usually less than 5%. In fact, in most practices with good techniques now, with the dyes that we use and the minimally invasive techniques that we use, we see that this number is even lower. So the risk is low, but it’s still a risk that’s there. Some of the things that you can do to reduce those risks is have your diabetes under control, your hypertension under control. The other thing that you can do is to watch a lot of the salt intake that you have, as well as watch out for any injuries during the first six months after you’ve had a lymph node dissection or a lymph node biopsy. Those include having your nails done, gardening. One of the biggest offenders is patients who work in their yards and get sticks from their thornbush or scratches. And those things potentially get infected. And that slightly increases your risk of lymphedema. So the first six months is very critical on protecting your arm for any undue injuries. The other thing to do is get you into an occupational therapist early so that you can do massage therapy and prevention of lymphedema, and we find those patients have a great deal of success with that.