Lymphedema and air travel

Last Modified: February 2, 2003


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
Two years ago I had a masectomy and a sentinal node biopsy which removed 7 lymph nodes. I am planning a trip in a few months and will be on a plane for 20 hours. Does this trip increase my chances of lyphedema? Are there any precautions I should take? 


Lora Packel MS, PT, Coordinator of Cancer Therapy Services for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

There is scant literature to determine the actual risk of developing lymphedema during extended air travel. It may be of benefit to meet with a lymphedema specialist to discuss a compression sleeve since your travel is > 20 hours.

Other recommendations to follow during air travel:

  • Use light suitcases with wheels
  • Use your unaffected arm to carry luggage
  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes
  • Get up frequently during the flight
  • Perform simple arm and leg exercises during the flight
  • Avoid salty airplane food! Order special items or carry low-salt snacks

When you reach your destination:

  • Use sunblock to avoid sunburn
  • Use citronella candles to help avoid insect bites
  • Wear foot covering on the beach

From the National Cancer Institute