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Secondary Lymphoedema

Secondary Lymphoedema is a failure of the lymphatic system because of damage to the normally functioning system.

Why is the lymphatic system important to us?  The two videos take a brief look at the lymphatic system explain why the lymphatic system can fail.  The lymphatic system is important as it helps protect us from infection and disease. One of the most common causes of failure of the lymphatic system is during or after cancer treatment.  Secondary lymphoedema is a failure of the lymphatic system and develops because of damage to a normally functioning system.

While cancer related lymphoedema is one of the most common causes of failure to the lymphatic system other causes of failure to the lymphatic system can include:

  • Immobility

  • Inflammation

  • Obesity

  • Trauma & Injury (even an insect bite)

  • Venous Diseases

  • Cellulitis

In an ideal world every Clinician or student at medical school would study the lymphatic system in detail.  Each one of us needs our lymphatic system to function properly so that our health and wellbeing can be maintained.

Not everyone who has cancer or cancer treatment will develop lymphoedema


There are several reasons why cancer related lymphoedema develops, surgery if lymph nodes are removed or a combination of surgery and radiotherapy treatment.  Treating lymph nodes or an area of the body where there are lymph nodes with radiotherapy treatment can cause damage and you may develop lymphoedema.  Radiotherapy was the reason I developed secondary lymphoedema. 

Treatment of some types of cancer are more susceptible to lymphoedema, these include:  Bladder, Breast, Cervical, Prostrate, Head & Neck, Penile, Lymphoma, Skin Cancer, Vulva and Womb.

At no stage in my cancer journey was I warned that I could develop lymphoedema.  Therefore, I want to see all cancer teams but more importantly all radiotherapists warn patients that they are at risk in developing lymphoedema through radiotherapy treatment.  I would have liked to have been given the opportunity to make an informed choice as to whether I had radiotherapy or not.

Signs and Symptons

That those of you at risk should look for

Swelling in the 'at risk' limb or body area

Even if the swelling goes down at night

 Heavy feeling or ache in the limb or area of the body

Increasing tightness of clothing or jewellery

Red hot area, rash or 'flu-like symptoms that may suggest cellulitis

Skin changes, thickening of the skin or peau d'orange changes (especially in the breast or abdominal area

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