Reducing your risk of lymphoedema
There are several things you can do to help reduce your risk of developing lymphoedema after treatment. If you notice changes in the affected part of your body, see your doctor immediately. These suggestions are also useful for people living with lymphoedema.
Learn more about how to:
- Use the affected area normally
- Look after your skin
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Don’t try to protect the affected limb by limiting its movement – moving the limb normally will keep the lymph fluid flowing.
- Avoid repeated heavy lifting, such as moving heavy boxes or furniture, as it may worsen your symptoms.
- Avoid pressure in the wrong place, such as a tight bra strap or underwear with tight elastic.
- Research shows that it is not necessary to wear a compression sleeve during airplane travel if you don’t have lymphoedema.
- Keep your skin clean. Wash with a pH-neutral soap and avoid scented products.
- Moisturise your skin every day. Dry and irritated skin is more likely to tear and break.
- Protect your skin – wear gloves for gardening, housework, handling pets; use insect repellent to prevent insect bites; avoid cutting or burning your skin when cooking; wear protective clothing, a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen when in the sun.
- Seek medical help urgently if you think you may have a skin infection.
- Keep physically active to help the lymph fluid flow.
- Do regular exercise such as swimming, yoga, bike riding, aquarobics, walking or running. Gardening and housework also count as exercise.
- It’s okay to do resistance training – increase the weight and intensity gradually. Be guided by how your limb responds, and cool down slowly.
- Start any exercise slowly and build-up gradually.
- Visit an accredited exercise physiologist or physiotherapist to develop an exercise program.
For more on this, see Exercise after a cancer diagnosis.
- Aim to stay in a healthy weight range. Being overweight can be a risk factor for developing lymphoedema. If you are overweight, talk to your doctor about how to achieve a healthy weight.
- Eat a variety of nutritious food each day – aim for at least 5 serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit, and choose a variety of wholegrain, wholemeal and high-fibre foods, such as bread, pasta, oats, rice, legumes (beans, peas and lentils) and nuts.
For more on this, see Nutrition and cancer.
Anya Traill, Head, Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dawn Bedwell, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council QLD; Gillian Buckley, Senior Physiotherapist – Lymphoedema, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Asha Heydon-White, Senior Physiotherapist and Lymphoedema Therapist, MQ Health Lymphoedema Clinic, ALERT – Australian Lymphoedema Education Research and Treatment, Macquarie University, NSW; Prof Sharon Kilbreath, Deputy Dean, Academic, Discipline of Physiotherapy, Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney, NSW; Pamela Lamont, Consumer; Prof Neil Piller, Vice Chair, International Lymphoedema Framework, Director, Lymphoedema Clinical Research Unit, Patron, Lymphoedema Support Group SA; Hildegard Reul-Hirche, Physiotherapist, QLD.
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