Safe to fly after treatment?

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Question from Birgitt: How safe it is to fly after lumpectomy, radiation, and lymph node removal? And how soon?
Answers - Julie Gralow, M.D. There's no reason to restrict your travel after breast cancer treatment if you're feeling up to it. Usually, your surgeon might recommend just a few weeks of healing before taking a long trip. But what you're probably wondering about is the arm swelling that can occur as a result of the pressure changes that take place 35,000 feet up in an airplane. When you fly, however, doesn't affect your chances of swelling, so there's no restriction in terms of waiting a month or a year.

What I usually tell my patients is that if they're having trouble with arm swelling, they should see a physical therapist, preferably one who treats lymphedema, and get fitted for a special sleeve to wear on the plane. This sleeve will constrict the arm and prevent fluid from building up. If a patient has had lymph node surgery but hasn't had any trouble with swelling, then I usually don't recommend getting a sleeve, although some lymphedema specialists do recommend it. If a patient who normally doesn't have lymphedema notices that her arm gets puffy after flying, then it may be reasonable to get fitted for a sleeve to wear on future flights.

In general, if you do get a little puffy, massage can help. Work your way up the arm toward the shoulder, since this can help mobilize this fluid. Generally speaking, arm swelling will go down fairly soon after the end of your travels.

The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Managing Treatment Side Effects featured Julie Gralow, M.D. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about many of the short-term and long-term side effects of breast cancer treatment, and ways of minimizing them, so you can get on with your life and enjoy your day-to-day activities.

Editor's Note: This conference took place in January 2003.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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