Preventative Steps for Leg Lymphedema
For the patient who is at risk of developing Lymphedema, and for the patient who has developed Lymphedema.
Who is at risk?
At risk is anyone who has had gynecological, melanoma, prostate or kidney cancer in combination with inguinal node dissection and/or radiation therapy. Lymphedema can occur immediately postoperatively, within a few months, a couple of years, or 20 years or more after cancer therapy. With proper education and care, Lymphedema can be avoided or, if it develops, kept under control. (For information regarding other causes of lower extremity Lymphedema, see What is Lymphedema?) The following instructions should be reviewed carefully pre-operatively and discussed with your physician or therapist.
1. Absolutely do not ignore any slight increase of swelling in the toes, foot, ankle, leg, abdomen, genitals (consult with your doctor immediately).
2. Never allow an injection or a blood drawing in the affected leg(s). Wear a LYMPHEDEMA ALERT Necklace.
3. Keep the edemic or at-risk leg spotlessly clean. Use lotion (Eucerin, Lymphoderm, Curel, whatever works best for you) after bathing. When drying it, be gentle, but thorough. Make sure it is dry in any creases and between the toes.
4. Avoid vigorous, repetitive movements against resistance with the affected legs.
5. Do not wear socks, stockings or undergarments with tight elastic bands.
6. Avoid extreme temperature changes when bathing or sunbathing (no saunas or hottubs). Keep the leg(s) protected from the sun.
7. Try to avoid any type of trauma, such as bruising, cuts, sunburn or other burns, sports injuries, insect bites, cat scratches. (Watch for subsequent signs of infection.)
8. When manicuring your toenails, avoid cutting your cuticles (inform your pedicurist).
9. Exercise is important, but consult with your therapist. Do not overtire a leg at risk; if it starts to ache, lie down and elevate it. Recommended exercises: walking, swimming, light aerobics, bike riding, and yoga.
10. When travelling by air, patients with Lymphedema and those at-risk should wear a well-fitted compression stocking. For those with Lymphedema, additional bandages may be required to maintain compression on a long flight. Increase fluid intake while in the air.
11. Use an electric razor to remove hair from legs. Maintain electric razor, properly replacing heads as needed.
12. Patients who have Lymphedema should wear a well-fitted compression stocking during all waking hours. At least every 4-6 months, see your therapist for follow-up. If the stocking is too loose, most likely the leg circumference has reduced or the stocking is worn.
13. Warning: If you notice a rash, itching, redness, pain, increase of temperature or fever, see your physician immediately. An inflammation or infection in the affected leg could be the beginning or a worsening of Lymphedema.
14. Maintain your ideal weight through a well-balanced, low sodium, high-fiber diet. Avoid smoking and alcohol. Lymphedema is a high protein edema, but eating too little protein will not reduce the protein element in the lymph fluid; rather, this may weaken the connective tissue and worsen the condition. The diet should contain easily-digested protein such as chicken, fish or tofu.
15. Always wear closed shoes (high tops or well-fitted boots are highly recommended). No sandals, slippers or going barefoot. Dry feet carefully after swimming.
16. See a podiatrist once a year as prophylaxis (to check for and treat fungi, ingrown toenails, calluses, pressure areas, athelete's foot).
17. Wear clean socks & hosiery at all times.
18. Use talcum powder on feet, especially if you perspire a great deal; talcum will make it easier to pull on compression stockings. Be sure to wear rubber gloves, as well, when pulling on stockings. Powder behind the knee often helps, preventing rubbing and irritation.
Unfortunately, prevention is not a cure. But, as a cancer and/or Lymphedema patient, you are in control of your ongoing cancer checkups and the continued maintenance of your Lymphedema.
Revised © January 2001 National Lymphedema Network. Permission to print out and duplicate this page in its entirety for educational purposes only, not for sale. All other rights reserved. For more information, contact the NLN: 1-800-541-3259.