Nutrition and Lymphedema in Breast Cancer

By Theresa Pittman, MSN, ANP-BC


Breast cancer is a challenging journey that demands a comprehensive approach to treatment and recovery. One often overlooked aspect is the management of lymphedema, a condition that can develop after surgery or radiation therapy. While lymphedema has no cure, proper nutrition is crucial in managing its symptoms and promoting active recovery. In this blog post, we'll explore the connection between food and lymphedema in breast cancer patients and offer practical advice on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Understanding Lymphedema

Lymphedema is a chronic condition characterized by the swelling of the arms or legs, often due to the removal of lymph nodes during breast cancer surgery or radiation therapy. This swelling occurs when the lymphatic system, responsible for draining excess fluid from tissues, becomes impaired. Lymphedema can be painful and limit a person's ability to engage in daily activities.

Nutrition's Role in Lymphedema Management

While no definitive diet can cure lymphedema, a well-balanced and nutritious diet can help manage its symptoms and improve breast cancer survivors' overall quality of life. Here are some dietary guidelines to consider:


1. **Maintain a Healthy Weight**: Obesity can exacerbate lymphedema symptoms, as excess body fat can put additional pressure on the lymphatic system. Focus on maintaining a healthy weight through portion control and regular exercise.


2. **Stay Hydrated**: Adequate hydration is essential for a healthy lymphatic system. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help your body flush out toxins and excess fluids.


3. **Reduce Sodium Intake**: High sodium intake can lead to water retention and worsen swelling. Limit processed foods, often high in sodium, and choose fresh, whole foods instead.


4. **Embrace Anti-Inflammatory Foods**: Foods rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce inflammation and improve lymphatic function. Incorporate plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fatty fish into your diet.


5. **Moderate Protein Intake**: Protein is essential for tissue repair and maintaining muscle mass. Include lean protein sources like poultry, fish, beans, and tofu.


6. **Be Mindful of Fats**: Opt for healthy fats like those found in avocados, nuts, and olive oil while limiting saturated and trans fats found in fried and processed foods.


7. **Consider Compression Garments**: In some cases, wearing compression garments can help manage lymphedema symptoms by promoting lymphatic flow. Consult with your healthcare provider for guidance on using compression garments.


8. **Consult a Registered Dietitian**: Every individual's nutritional needs are unique. Consulting a registered dietitian specializing in oncology nutrition can provide personalized guidance to support your health goals.


Breast cancer survivors face numerous challenges on their recovery journey, and lymphedema shouldn't be underestimated. While there's no one-size-fits-all solution, a healthy diet and lifestyle can significantly improve lymphedema management and overall well-being. Remember to work closely with your healthcare team, including a registered dietitian, to create a nutrition plan tailored to your needs. By taking an active role in your nutrition and overall health, you can enhance your quality of life and embrace a brighter, healthier future beyond breast cancer.

For more Information/Sources

Dietary Supplements in Lymphedema

Lymphedema and Nutrition: A review,

Foods that help with swelling and lymphedema


Posted in: Nutrition/Diet, Post Treatment, Side Effects