Lymphoedema after breast cancer treatment

Lymphoedema is a fluid swelling caused by disruption to the lymphatic system and can occur following treatment for breast cancer. This can be many months, or even years, after the cancer was treated. Swelling is most often present in the arm or hand. Sometimes there can be swelling around the breast, chest or armpit. 

Whilst lymphoedema is not dangerous the swollen area can feel heavy and uncomfortable. People with lymphoedema can find the way it looks upsetting, even if the amount of swelling is very small, and it can make choosing clothes difficult. 

If you notice swelling on your arm, hand or body near the operation site, you should let your GP or hospital doctor know. 

Some tests or scans may be recommended to check there are no other causes, and if necessary your hospital doctor can refer you to the lymphoedema clinic. 

At the lymphoedema clinic you will be taught some specialised exercises, a simple self massage and given skin care advice to help you manage your swelling. If needed we can give advice on compression hosiery (armsleeves) which can be prescribed by GPs. 

Lymphoedema is not curable, but using the above techniques will control the swelling and reduce the discomfort.