Question: What is lymphedema and how common is it?
Answer: Lymphedema is swelling of the arm from removal of the lymph nodes under the armpit. This is most common with the full axillary lymph node surgery, where it occurs in 10-15 percent of women. It only occurs in about 1 percent of women who have sentinel lymph node biopsy, this making sentinel lymph node biopsy a very attractive option when the lymph nodes are negative.
The only way really to control it is not to do the full lymph node surgery; but for those women who do have the full lymph node surgery, the majority still don't develop lymphedema. When they do develop lymphedema, there are methods, including massage therapies, to help control the extent of the swelling, but unfortunately it is a lifelong condition.