Treatment Programs

Breast Cancer-related Lymphedema

Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center offers lymphedema screening for women who have been treated for breast cancer.

  • Call 617-643-1306 for an appointment

 

On this page you will find information to help you:

Information about Breast Cancer Related Lymphedema

Learn More about this Condition

Lymphedema is swelling caused by fluid that collects in the tissues under the skin.  This fluid is called “lymph.”

Patients who have undergone surgery or radiation therapy for breast cancer have greater risk of developing lymphedema. Breast cancer-related lymphedema can occur in the breast, chest wall, arm and/or hand.

Symptoms

Possible early signs of breast cancer-related lymphedema include:

  • Puffiness or swelling
  • Clothing, bra or jewelry that feels tighter than usual or leaves a dent or mark on the skin
  • A feeling of fullness in the affected area
  • A feeling of heaviness or fatigue in the affected area
  • An area of the skin that is red or warm to the touch

Screening and Diagnosis 

Before breast cancer surgery, your doctor may begin screening for lymphedema by measuring the size and volume of each of your arms. Further measurements are then taken at post-surgery visits to monitor for signs of swelling.

A diagnosis of breast cancer-related lymphedema may be confirmed through a physical examination, breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and/or radionuclide imaging of the lymphatic system (a test known as lymphoscintigraphy).

Lymphedema Treatment

Your individualized treatment plan for breast cancer-related lymphedema will take into account your disease stage, body mass index (BMI), personal goals and general health.

Lymphedema therapy typically focuses on physical therapy, including massage and safely controlled exercise. Wearing a compression glove or sleeve during the day or at night may also help with lymphedema management.

Learn more about breast cancer related lymphedema on our patient education page.

Back to top

Our Breast Cancer Related Lymphedema Team

See the Complete Team List

Alphonse Taghian, MD, PHD

The Lymphedema Studies Program, part of the Center for Breast Cancer, launched in 2005 under the leadership of Alphonse Taghian, MD, PhD.

See the complete team treating Breast Cancer related Lymphedema

Alphonse Taghian, MD, PHD
Clinical Director, Breast Cancer Related Lymphedema

Back to top

Our Approach  

A Multidisciplinary Approach

Our program's multidisciplinary team includes works together to:

  • Ensure ongoing screening
  • Educate patients about risk factors, signs and symptoms
  • Provide top-notch management

If lymphedema is detected, we design an individualized treatment plan focusing on physical therapy.

A Leader in Prospective Screening

We screen for breast cancer-related lymphedema in all newly diagnosed breast cancer patients at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. We treat the condition in its earliest stages.  We have evaluated more than 2,500 breast cancer patients.

Research: a Program Priority

Our program is conducting a large, federally funded clinical trial on early detection and intervention for lymphedema in patients treated for breast cancer. The study evaluates the effectiveness of using compression garments to prevent or slow the progression of lymphedema. Patients will be fitted by a certified lymphedema therapist for compression garments. All our patients are welcome to enroll. Participation is voluntary.

Back to top

Contact Us

If you have any questions or would like to speak with one of our team members, please call 617-643-1306.

Back to top

Breast cancer treatment, BMI, post-op swelling/lymphoedema (PDF)

Download the National Institutes of Health report to see how doctors are using body mass index (BMI) to help diagnose breast cancer-related lymphedema.

Screening and Measurement for Early Detection of Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema (PDF)

Download the National Lymphedema Network's report explaining the importance of early detection in breast cancer-related lymphedema.

Obesity is a Risk Factor for Developing Postoperative Lymphedema in Breast Cancer Patients (PDF)

Read a report discussing the association between obesity and increased risk of developing lymphedema after breast cancer surgery.

Weight Lifting for Women at Risk for Breast Cancer–related Lymphedema (PDF)

Download the Journal of American Medical Association's study about weight lifting for women at risk for breast cancer-related lymphedema.

Weight Lifting in Women with Breast Cancer–related Lymphedema (PDF)

Read more about weight lifting and lymphedema in this study from the New England Journal of Medicine.

Lymphedema and Breast Cancer Fact Sheet (PDF)

Download the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center fact sheet to learn more about lymphedema. Discover the risks, causes, symptoms, treatment and preventative measures offered.

Standardized Method for Quantification of Developing Lymphedema in Patients Treated for Breast Cancer (PDF)

Doctors at Mass General are developing a simple and practical formula for quantifying breast cancer-related lymphedema. Download the report.

Dr. Vodder School International

The Dr. Vodder School offers training programs for health care professionals in manual lymph drainage and combined decongestive therapy.

Klose Lymphedema Therapy Certification Courses

Klose Training & Consulting, LLC offers certification courses in lymphedema certification and continuing-education courses for medical professionals.

Lymphology Association of North America

The Lymphology Association of North America (LANA) consists of medical professionals who create and implement a national certification standard to treat lymphology and lymphedema.

Norton School of Lymphatic Therapy

The Norton School of Lymphatic Therapy trains health care professionals in pathological treatments related to the lymphatic system.

YWCA

The YWCA offers support programs for breast cancer patients, such as the Pink Program.

The Livestrong Foundation

The Livestrong Foundation offers patients with breast cancer information and resources to manage their condition.

Home Disconnect

A home infusion pump may be part of your treatment plan. In some cases, you may have the option for disconnecting the chemotherapy from home. If this option applies to you, and you would prefer to disconnect from home, this instructional video will reinforce the teaching provided to you by your nurse in the Mass General cancer Center

Screening for lymphedema with a Perometer

Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center are using a Perometer to detect breast cancer-related lymphedema.

Breast cancer treatment, BMI, post-op swelling/lymphoedema (PDF)

Download the National Institutes of Health report to see how doctors are using body mass index (BMI) to help diagnose breast cancer-related lymphedema.

Screening and Measurement for Early Detection of Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema (PDF)

Download the National Lymphedema Network's report explaining the importance of early detection in breast cancer-related lymphedema.

Obesity is a Risk Factor for Developing Postoperative Lymphedema in Breast Cancer Patients (PDF)

Read a report discussing the association between obesity and increased risk of developing lymphedema after breast cancer surgery.

Weight Lifting for Women at Risk for Breast Cancer–related Lymphedema (PDF)

Download the Journal of American Medical Association's study about weight lifting for women at risk for breast cancer-related lymphedema.

Weight Lifting in Women with Breast Cancer–related Lymphedema (PDF)

Read more about weight lifting and lymphedema in this study from the New England Journal of Medicine.

Lymphedema and Breast Cancer Fact Sheet (PDF)

Download the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center fact sheet to learn more about lymphedema. Discover the risks, causes, symptoms, treatment and preventative measures offered.

Standardized Method for Quantification of Developing Lymphedema in Patients Treated for Breast Cancer (PDF)

Doctors at Mass General are developing a simple and practical formula for quantifying breast cancer-related lymphedema. Download the report.

Dr. Vodder School International

The Dr. Vodder School offers training programs for health care professionals in manual lymph drainage and combined decongestive therapy.

Klose Lymphedema Therapy Certification Courses

Klose Training & Consulting, LLC offers certification courses in lymphedema certification and continuing-education courses for medical professionals.

Lymphology Association of North America

The Lymphology Association of North America (LANA) consists of medical professionals who create and implement a national certification standard to treat lymphology and lymphedema.

Norton School of Lymphatic Therapy

The Norton School of Lymphatic Therapy trains health care professionals in pathological treatments related to the lymphatic system.

YWCA

The YWCA offers support programs for breast cancer patients, such as the Pink Program.

The Livestrong Foundation

The Livestrong Foundation offers patients with breast cancer information and resources to manage their condition.

Home Disconnect

A home infusion pump may be part of your treatment plan. In some cases, you may have the option for disconnecting the chemotherapy from home. If this option applies to you, and you would prefer to disconnect from home, this instructional video will reinforce the teaching provided to you by your nurse in the Mass General cancer Center

Cancer Center

Gillette Center for Breast Cancer
Yawkey Cancer Center, Suite 9A

Phone: 617-643-1306
Hours: Mon-Fri 8:00 am-4:30 pm

Next Steps:

  • Call 617-643-1306 for an appointment
patient

Request an appointment at the Cancer Center

Contact the Cancer Center to schedule an appointment with one of our cancer specialists

Discover the Cancer Center patient experience

Our approach to patient care unites cancer specialists across the hospital to create a personalized treatment plan for each patient, ensuring the best possible outcomes.

patient

Support the Center for Breast Cancer

Your gift helps our team develop new treatments and provide compassionate care for patients with any stage of breast cancer.