Lymphedema After Breast Surgery

A number of studies have found that lifting weights reduces the development of lymphedema.

It is also clear that air travel (whether long or short haul) does not increase the risk of lymphedema>

Sleeves are not indicated unless there is established lymphedema.

A Cochrane review found no increase in lymphedema associated with early shoulder-mobilization exercises (within 7 days of surgery), and in fact found that these were better than delayed exercises.

Weight loss, whether through reducing calories or fat intake, has been found to result in reduced lymphedema.

Studies have found that patients with a prior axillary dissection could undergo elective hand surgery (including carpal tunnel surgery) without an increase in lymphedema rates.


Brown JC, Schmitz KH. Weight lifting and physical function among survivors of breast cancer: a post hoc analysis of a randomized controlled trial. J Clin Oncol. 2015;33:2184-2189.

Kilbreath SL, Ward LC, Lane K, et al. Effect of air travel on lymphedema risk in women with history of breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2010;120:649-654.

Stuiver MM, ten Tusscher MR, Agasi-Idenburg CS, Lucas C, Aaronson NK, Bossuyt PM. Conservative interventions for preventing clinically detectable upper limb lymphedema in patients who are at risk of developing lymphedema after breast cancer therapy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;2:CD009765.

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