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Sentinel biopsy, axillary dissection, breast surgery and radiotherapy can lead to musculoskeletal complications in people treated for breast cancer. Some of these complications could be reversed, especially if they are dealt with quickly. The most complex continues to be lymphedema.

Here are some precautions to take to help reduce the risk of developing lymphedema in the arm:

  • protect your skin. Avoid trauma such as insect bites, cuts, animal scratches, burns and sunburns. If your skin breaks, wash the area and apply an antibacterial ointment. Avoid substances that irritate your skin;
  • as soon as you see a sign of infection (skin rash, redness, itching, pain, inflammation, increased temperature or fever, and general discomfort), consult a health care professional;
  • ideally, your blood pressure should be taken on the arm that was not operated on. If possible, do not get injections, perfusion, or have your blood drawn from the arm that was operated on (because of the risk of infection);
  • be careful when you expose yourself to high temperatures (hot baths, saunas, spas, sun), as heat can cause swelling;
  • to promote lymphatic circulation, it is recommended to follow a workout program that includes arm strengthening exercises (using weights or elastic resistance bands) as well as cardiovascular exercises;
  • return to normal activities gradually. Set yourself short-term goals. The key is to exercise daily.

Research shows that lymphedema is more frequent in people who are overweight or have gained weight since the surgery. Strive to maintain a healthy weight.