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Is it lymphoedema?

Thursday, 14 June, 2012 - 11:38

Many of you who have had surgery to your armpit to remove or sample the lymph nodes call our Helpline asking questions about the potential risk of developing lymphoedema and ask how to spot the first signs of this problem.

You may be interested to know that often, before showing any swelling, there may be a feeling that the arm is different. It may feel heavier, it may feel uncomfortable and it can be difficult to know for sure what’s going on. Swelling can occur, sometimes suddenly and in just one area (around the elbow or just a finger for example). Lymphoedema of the breast area is also common. Sometimes the swelling is short-lived, a reaction from your treatment for breast cancer, and it slowly disappears over time. If the swelling remains, then it’s worth reporting this to a member of your breast care team.

Lymphoedema can occur weeks or months following surgery or radiotherapy. It can also develop much later, sometimes many years after treatment.

You can reduce your risk of developing lymphoedema in the following ways:

  • gentle exercise
  • skin care by washing every day with a soap that doesn’t dry out the skin, followed by applying a moisturising cream afterwards to keep the skin supple and moist
  • avoid having your blood pressure taken or blood samples from the ‘arm at risk’
  • offer your non-affected arm when going for vaccinations and avoid acupuncture in that arm
  • avoid any puncture/scratch to skin of the ‘arm at risk’ to reduce the ability for germs to enter.

There are lots of other tips in our booklet Reducing the risk of lymphoedema. You can call our Helpline for a free copy or order one from the website.


Re: Is it Lymphoedema?

I would urge anyone who experiences any sensation changes to contact there breast care nurse for referral to a lymphoedema specialist as many clinics now offer early intervention treatments and advice on self management. The British lymphology society advocates early intervention in the prevention of lymphoedema

Re: Is it Lymphoedema?

That is useful information. Thank you
I've been having a problem with blood tests, they can;t get it out of the left arm so have to use the 'at risk' right arm. I've spoken to BCN who says this is ok so long as they have tried left first and also get it first time on right arm.


Re: Is it lymphoedema?

Thanks for your comments - I'm glad you found the post interesting. If you have any concerns about lymphoedema then you can ring our helpline to talk it through on 0808 800 6000. We're open 9am-5pm on weekdays and 10am-2pm Saturdays.

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