Debunking Myths: Blood Pressure and Blood Draws After Breast Surgery

October 04, 2023
Jason Wiseman, MD, MPH

Breast Surgery Common Concerns & Misconceptions

As a dedicated breast surgeon, I want to address common concerns and misconceptions that often arise after breast surgery. You may have heard advice like, "The arm on the side of your breast surgery is off limits... No blood draws, blood pressures, nothing!"

At first glance, this recommendation might seem reasonable. After all, one of the potential risks associated with breast surgery involving lymph nodes in the armpit is arm swelling, or lymphedema, a build-up of fluid. It's true that this occurs in about 1 in 5 patients when a majority of lymph nodes are removed during surgery. The fear is that manipulating the arm might lead to swelling. However, let me assure you, this is not entirely true!"

Over the years, I've encountered concerns from many, including hospital staff, about touching the arm where the surgery was performed. Nevertheless, numerous studies have investigated the connection between breast cancer-related lymphedema and factors such as air travel, blood pressure measurements on the same side, and blood draws. A study published in Lancet Oncology in 2016 reviewed 31 original articles that investigated lifestyle-associated risk factors and their impact on lymphedema about whether precautions for breast cancer-related lymphedema made a substantial difference. The researchers found that a majority of these studies did not show a significant difference in lymphedema rates when blood draws and blood pressure measurements were taken on the same side as the surgery. The few that did suggest a difference typically provided low levels of evidence or were inconclusive.

While I would certainly recommend choosing the non-surgery arm when given the option, in many scenarios, it is likely acceptable to use the arm on the side of the surgery, especially if it has been several years since the operation. If you are unsure, always consult with your breast oncology team or healthcare provider. Your well-being and peace of mind are of utmost importance!

For any questions related to your to breast health, make sure to contact your primary care physician or your dedicated BILH breast cancer care team.

Jason Wiseman, MD, MPH, is a surgical oncologist at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, specializing in general surgery.