If you’re overweight, you’re more likely to experience problems with lymphedema. The theory is that when your body has extra fat, those tissues require more blood vessels. This creates a higher volume of blood and lymph in the arms and chest, placing a greater burden on the remaining lymph nodes and vessels after breast cancer treatment.
Overweight is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 25-29.9 and obese as a BMI of 30 or greater. For example, a 5’5” woman weighing 150 pounds or more is considered overweight, and she is considered obese if 180 pounds or more. There are a number of online tools you can use to calculate your BMI, such as this one from the National Institutes of Health.
Some studies have shown that losing weight can significantly improve lymphedema symptoms in people who are overweight. Talk to your doctor or lymphedema therapist about creating a diet and safe exercise plan for bringing your weight down to a healthy range. You can also ask if there is a nutritionist who can help you make an eating plan that will help you lose weight. Many hospitals and cancer centers have nutritionists on staff. See Breastcancer.org’s Nutrition section for guidance. Since being overweight also increases the risk of breast cancer recurrence, it’s doubly important to take steps to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
If you’re at a healthy weight now, work to stay within your current range. Good nutrition and safe exercise are your best allies.