Breast Cancer

Lymphoedema Breast Cancer and MLD

Sometimes after surgery or radiotherapy the lymph nodes in the axilla and the surrounding areas may be destroyed or damaged and the lymph fluid which would normally drain and filter in the axilla is unable to do so, resulting in a build-up of fluid and swelling in the affected area. This is what is known as secondary lymphoedema. Not every person who has had breast cancer will acquire lymphoedema, but there is always a possibility.

Lymphoedema affects people in different ways and once acquired is a long-term condition, but it can be controlled with your own self care, management and MLD. It may start to develop shortly after the surgery or it could be several years later, but please if you notice even the slightest of swelling please contact your G.P. or breast care nurse immediately, do not leave it, as it is easier for the therapist to move the fluid in the early stages rather than the latter. The majority of people who develop lymphoedema after breast cancer will have only mild to moderate lymphoedema, usually in the hand, arm and on occasions a little on the side of the trunk.

To reduce the risk of lymphoedema

Taking care of the affected area is an important part of reducing the chance of developing lymphoedema, here are some important tips:-

  • Skin Care – Washing the area daily avoiding any soap that will dry the skin, avoiding extremely hot or cold water, then moisture the area with a heavy cream i.e. aqueous is normally recommended to prevent the region drying out. A well hydrated skin will buff off infections.
  • During the summer months make every effort to keep the arm out of the sun and apply sun protection cream and in the evening aim to avoid mosquito bites and use insect repellent. If you have a compression garment please wear it whilst gardening to protect against cuts or scratches.
  • Please be exceptionally careful whilst removing hair from under the arms, never wax or use hair removal cream as these may lead to infections. Lady shave, electric razors are your safest choice.
  • Do not place the affected side under any unnecessary stress by carrying heavy bags or shoulder bags on the arm that possibly could be in danger of developing lymphoedema, use the other shoulder.
  • Always wear your compression garment when flying and on long train and car journeys, do not sit for to long, when you can, try to get up and move around a little to keep the lymphatic fluid moving.
  • Gentle exercise is also highly recommended to assist the flow of lymph i.e. walking, swimming, water exercises and light rotations of the arms and your own self manual lymph drainage (if you have been given any).