A problem that may arise after treatment for breast cancer is swelling of the arm on the side of the treatment. This condition, called lymphedema, is caused by the loss or damage of underarm lymph nodes and their connecting vessels. It occurs because circulation of lymph fluid is slowed in the arm, making it harder to fight infection. You should take special care of your arm to prevent infection.
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;
- 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, put your arm over your head and alternately squeeze and relax your fist.
Though you should be cautious, it's also important to use your arm normally-don't favor it or keep it dependent.