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Breast Cancer

Swelling after Mastectomy

08/17/1998

Question:

I had a lumpectomy with axillary node dissection done in May 1998 and in June 1998 a mastectomy. I also had emergency surgery in-between these operations when the drain was pulled from the lumpectomy. A small artery was lacerated and had to be clamped. I have noticed slight swelling under my armpit, swelling down in the upper part of my arm and across the mastectomy scar. My breast surgeon said that it is not lymphedema. How long does the swelling take to absorb (if ever), is this a common occurrence, and is there any exercise I can do to reduce the swelling? I have been going to physical therapy because I am having a very difficult time with shoulder range of motion from all the recent surgeries.

Answer:

Most women get some swelling after lymph node resection. You say it is slight, so it should reduce within a few months. Exercise should help to reduce the swelling. Your surgeon prescribes the specific exercises according to the surgery that has been done. Call the surgeon's office to request specific instructions for exercises. Going to Physical Therapy is excellent so continue with that as long as it is prescribed. Avoid heavy lifting with that arm or allowing the arm to hang down long periods of time, like carrying a suitcase. Even avoid carrying bags of groceries. Avoid pressure to the involved arm like blood pressure cuffs or having blood drawn from that arm. Feel comfortable making these requests from health workers and they will be very cooperative. Take care of yourself. Thank you for writing.

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Response by:

Janet   Trigg, RN, MSN, EdD Janet Trigg, RN, MSN, EdD
Formerly:
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati