About lymphoedema and what causes this condition
Lymphoedema is swelling caused by a build-up of protein-rich fluid called lymph in the body’s tissues.
Your lymphatic system is a network of specialised vessels and organs. Its main function is to return fluid from your body’s tissues back to the blood stream.
The lymphatic system is an important part of your circulation and immune systems. It regulates and balances the fluids in your body and filters any harmful substances that can cause disease from the blood.
Lymphoedema linked to cancer is most commonly caused by:
• lymph nodes (small organs that filter harmful substances) being removed during cancer surgery
• radiotherapy damaging part of the lymphatic system
• the tumour itself, which may block part of the lymphatic system.
If you have increased white blood cells due to leukaemia or an infection, this can restrict the flow of lymph fluid and cause lymphoedema.
You can develop lymphoedema after surgery or radiotherapy for nearly any type of cancer. It is most common if you have:
• breast cancer
• prostate cancer
• cancers affecting the pelvic area (the lower part of your tummy between the hips)
• lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system)
• melanoma (a type of skin cancer)
• head and neck cancers.
Signs and symptoms of lymphoedema
Lymphoedema usually develops in your arms or legs, but it can affect any part of the body. The condition can occur weeks, months or even years after cancer treatment.
If your clothes, shoes or jewellery feel tighter than usual, you can talk to your cancer nurse or contact our lymphoedema service directly.
Other possible signs and symptoms in the affected area are:
• a feeling of heaviness, tightness or fullness
• aching or discomfort
• difficulty with movement
• skin changes, such as a hard, thick texture
• skin infections.
Lymphoedema treatment with our specialists
The aims of lymphoedema treatment are to:
• reduce and control swelling
• improve the condition of the body’s tissues
• regain and preserve a full range of movement in the affected area
• prevent further complications.
It is important to get advice and start treatment as soon as possible. Untreated lymphoedema can get worse over time.
The lymphoedema service in the Physiotherapy Department at our neighbouring Parkside Hospital provides:
• Information on skin care and preventing infection: We can give you practical tips on how to take care of your skin and reduce the risk of infection.
• Manual lymph drainage and scar tissue treatment: Our specialist lymphoedema therapists perform a gentle type of skin massage called manual lymph drainage. This helps to drain the extra fluid away from the swollen part of your body. If you have a hard, thick or scarred area, our therapists may use manual techniques to soften the scar and make it more flexible.
• Fitting of compression garments: We are experienced at measuring and fitting compression garments. These garments limit the build-up of fluid after you have completed the intensive phase of lymphoedema treatment.
• Recommended exercises and physical activities: We can create a personal exercise and movement plan tailored to your needs. This may include exercises to practise in the gym or hydrotherapy pool at the nearby Parkside Hospital. We can recommend exercises and physical activities for you to continue independently at home.
Our therapists can also treat you if you have lymphoedema that is not caused by cancer or cancer treatment.
How to book an appointment
If you have any questions about lymphoedema or would like to book an appointment with a specialist lymphoedema therapist, you can complete this online form. Alternatively, you or your GP can either:
• telephone us on 020 8971 8021
• email firstname.lastname@example.org
Lymphoedema service Consultants