A problem that may arise after treatment is swelling of the arm on the side of the mastectomy. Called lymphedema, this condition is caused by the loss of underarm lymph nodes and their connecting vessels. Because the lymph nodes have been removed, circulation of lymph fluid is slowed, making it harder for your body to fight infection. You should take special care of your arm to prevent infection. (If you have had breasts removed, ask your doctor about any special precautions.)
Follow these simple rules:
- Avoid burns while cooking or smoking;
- Avoid sunburns;
- Have all injections, vaccinations, blood samples, and blood pressure tests done on the other arm whenever possible;
- Use an electric razor with a narrow head for underarm shaving to reduce the risk of nicks or scratches;
- Carry heavy packages or handbags on the other arm;
- Wash cuts promptly, treat them with antibacterial medication, and cover them with a sterile dressing; check often for redness, soreness, or other signs of infection;
- Never cut cuticles; use hand cream or lotion instead;
- Wear watches or jewelry loosely, if at all, on the operated arm;
- Wear protective gloves when gardening and when using strong detergents, etc.;
- Use a thimble when sewing;
- Avoid harsh chemicals and abrasive compounds;
- Use insect repellent to avoid bites and stings; and
- Avoid elastic cuffs on blouses and nightgowns.
Call your doctor at once if your arm becomes red, swollen, or feels hot. In the meantime, try to keep your arm over your head and periodically pump your fist.
Though you should be cautious, it's also important to use your arm normally-don't favor it or keep it dependent.