Edema and Cancer Treatment

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Certain exercises and diet changes can help, if edema is the cause of swelling. Your doctor may also prescribe medicine called a diuretic.

Credit: iStock

Edema, a condition in which fluid builds up in your body’s tissues, may be caused by some types of chemotherapy, certain cancers, and conditions not related to cancer.

Signs of edema may include:

  • swelling in your feet, ankles, and legs
  • swelling in your hands and arms
  • swelling in your face or abdomen
  • skin that is puffy, shiny, or looks slightly dented after being pressed
  • shortness of breath, a cough, or irregular heartbeat

Tell your health care team if you notice swelling. Your doctor or nurse will determine what is causing your symptoms, advise you on steps to take, and may prescribe medicine.

Some problems related to edema are serious. Call your doctor or nurse if you feel short of breath, have a heartbeat that seems different or is not regular, have sudden swelling or swelling that is getting worse or is moving up your arms or legs, you gain weight quickly, or you don’t urinate at all or urinate only a little.

Ways to Prevent or Lessen Edema

Steps you can take to prevent or lessen edema-related swelling include:

  • Get comfortable. Wear loose clothing and shoes that are not too tight. When you sit or lie down, raise your feet with a stool or pillows. Avoid crossing your legs when you sit. Talk with your health care team about wearing special stockings, sleeves, or gloves that help with circulation if your swelling is severe.
  • Exercise. Moving the part of your body with edema can help. Your doctor may give you specific exercises, including walking, to improve circulation. However, you may be advised not to stand or walk too much at one time.
  • Limit salt (sodium) in your diet. Avoid foods such as chips, bacon, ham, and canned soup. Check food labels for the sodium content. Don’t add salt or soy sauce to your food.
  • Take your medicine. If your doctor prescribes a medicine called a diuretic, take it exactly as instructed. The medicine will help move the extra fluid and salt out of your body.

Talking With Your Health Care Team about Edema

Prepare for your visit by making a list of questions to ask. Consider adding these questions to your list:

  • Are my medications or treatment likely to increase my risk of developing edema?
  • Are there steps I can take to prevent edema?
  • What symptoms or problems should I call you about?
  • What steps can I take to feel better if I notice swelling?
  • Are there foods, drinks, or activities I should avoid?
  • Posted: April 29, 2015

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