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Lymphedema and Breast Cancer Recovery Program

Some treatments for breast cancer can cause decreased flexibility and strength, pain and even increase your risk for lymphedema, a disorder of the lymphatic system where blockage and swelling occurs. Breast cancer related lymphedema can appear within a few days, months or years following cancer treatment. Left untreated, it can become worse.

Our Lymphedema and Breast Cancer Recovery Program, supported in part by a grant from the CNY Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, is unique to St. Joseph’s and can reduce your risk for lymphedema following treatment for breast cancer.

Risk factors for lymphedema include:

  • Mastectomy (simple, modified or radical), combined with axillary (arm pit) lymph node removal
  • Lumpectomy combined with axillary (arm pit) lymph node removal
  • Radiation to lymph nodes
  • Those with diabetes or venous insufficiency may also be susceptible to lymphedema

Signs and symptoms of lymphedema include:

  • A sensation of fullness or pressure in the arm or chest wall (trunk)
  • Swelling of the fingers, hand, arm or trunk
  • Infections of the involved arm or trunk
  • Thickening or hardening of the skin


Lymphedema itself is not painful and with early diagnosis and treatment, the prognosis is much better than if the swelling is ignored and untreated. Additionally, our comprehensive services are covered by most insurance.

The most effective treatment option for lymphedema is complete decongestive therapy (CDT), utilizing the Vodder techniques, consisting of two phases.

Phase I:

  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage – A gentle technique that moves the protein rich lymph fluid from the blocked areas to healthy lymph vessels.
  • Compression Therapy – Bandaging is applied after drainage to prevent the reaccumulation of fluid.
  • Exercise – A custom exercise program is developed for each patient. Light intensity exercise is performed with the extremity bandaged to assist the muscle-joint pump to return the lymph fluid back to the circulatory system.
  • Skin and Nail Care – As the skin and nails are susceptible to infection and are often dry, it is important to protect them from bacteria and injury. This is done by applying a low pH lotion.
  • Home Education Program – Each patient is trained to perform all components of CDT in preparation for Phase II.

Phase II:

A self management program aimed to preserve and continue the reduction of swelling is developed. Patients are taught to maintain and improve the success of the treatment in their home.


In order to participate in this program, you must have a physician’s referral. For more information, email breastcancerrecovery@sjhsyr.org or call 315-329-2550.

Additionally, through our Step Up Program, patients who qualify have unlimited access to our physical therapy and fitness machines for one month following their discharge from the Lymphedema and Breast Cancer Recovery Program. The cost is $30 and is available to breast cancer survivors who meet specific criteria for enrollment through a grant offered by the Saint Agatha Foundation.

St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center
St. Joseph’s Resource Line
Phone: 1-888-STJOES1 or (315) 703-2138
St. Joseph’s Lymphedema and Breast Cancer Recovery Program
Phone: (315) 329-2550