Written By: Nicole Scheiman, DrOT, OTR/L



One of the most commonly reported types of lymphedema breast cancer related incidence varies from 8-56% of patients. Individuals who experience the following, are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer-related lymphedema (examples):
  • Had an axillary lymph node dissection (ALND)
  • Had regional lymph node radiation
  • Have a high body mass index (BMI)
  • Used Taxane drugs



Lymphedema is an accumulation of protein-rich fluid in the tissues, which results in swelling of a body part. It has been referred to as “Cancer Treatment’s Dirty Little Secret” due to limited education on lymphedema risk reduction prior to onset.



Lymphedema can occur anywhere in the body. Breast cancer-related lymphedema typically occurs in the involved side/upper extremity and can occur in the chest and abdomen region.

Breast cancer-related lymphedema in the right upper extremity. What do you see? Enlarged limb, limb color differences, shiny texture on the involved extremity, open sore as well.


Male breast cancer related lymphedema in left upper extremity. Do you see similarities from picture #1?


What about picture #3? Notice anything with her posture? It’s always important to complete a holistic assessment of our patients as having a heavy upper extremity can have a negative impact on posture.



Reports of time of onset vary from within days to more than 30 years after the treatment of breast cancer.


This is an anthropometric measuring tape and if you do a lot of measuring…this will CHANGE your life as inter and intra rater reliability is greater and it enables you to take measurements much more quickly as it is user friendly to hold.


  • Prevention
  • Complete Decongestive Therapy
  • Weight management
  • Kinesiology taping
  • Compression garments
  • Pneumatic compression
  • Laser therapy-decrease tissue fibrosis
  • Surgery-micro-techniques, liposuction
  • Exercise does NOT cause lymphedema
  • NOTE: Diuretics are ineffective.
  • Decongestive Lymphedema Exercise
    • Gravity resistance to resistance bands-dumbbells-weight machines
    • Proximal to distal active exercise
    • Incorporate deep breathing
    • Use external compression
    • Goal-improve muscle pump effect on lymphatic and venous systems

This is me with my certified Therapy Dog, “Hope” volunteering at a library reading program.

Did this overview of breast cancer related lymphedema spark your interest to learn more about cancer and best practices for your patients?  If so, please explore my online and in-person courses including:

Visit summit-education.com for more information.



Breast Cancer Statistics. (2020, June 08). Retrieved December 23, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/statistics/index.htm

Stubblefield, M. (2019).  Cancer rehabilitation:  Principles and Practice.  2nd Edition.  New York:  Springer Publishing.

U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics. (2020, June 25). Retrieved December 23, 2020, from https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics