Lymphoedema after breast surgery

Lymphoedema is an unfortunate side effect of breast cancer surgery in up to 40% of women (depending on the type of surgery they have had).  The more extensive the surgery (particularly if lymph nodes in the armpit are removed) the higher the risk can be, due to the disruption of the little lymph fluid vessels that drain fluid from this area of the body.  Lymphatic fluid is the clear fluid that carries white blood cells through the lymphatic system, and lymphoedema is the build-up of this fluid in the tissues, causing swelling.

After breast surgery, the swelling most commonly affects the arm and hand on the side of the surgery, and the chest. This swelling can make the area feel heavy or tight, and can restrict movement of the area. The skin can become thickened or hard, and it can be quite uncomfortable.

There is sadly no cure for lymphoedema, but management with a trained lymphoedema therapist can help a great deal. Some common treatment options include:

  1. compression therapy with appropriate garments that apply constant pressure to the area
  2. gentle exercises, such as yoga and stretching, to encourage fluid drainage
  3. manual lymphatic drainage (specialised massage with a trained therapist)
  4. medications - in some cases your doctor may prescribe medications to help, but this may not suit all cases

While lymphoedema cannot always be prevented, there are some steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of developing lymphoedema. These include:

  1. Avoiding tight clothing or jewellery that can restrict lymphatic flow
  2. Avoiding activities that may put excessive strain on the affected area, such as heavy lifting
  3. Practicing good hygiene to prevent infection, which can worsen lymphoedema
  4. Maintaining a healthy weight

When choosing a bra and breast form when you have lymphoedema following breast surgery, the key things to look for are:

  • wide shoulder straps to distribute the weight of the breast and/or breast form evenly, avoiding pressure on the neck and shoulders
  • lighter weight breast forms, to reduce pressure on the neck and shoulder
  • flat seams or seamless construction
  • latest technology fabrics that offer a light massaging effect as you move around
  • higher coverage under the arms and around the back, for increased comfort and support

Woman wearing lymphoedema bra, doing yoga

Explore our Lymphoedema Collection here

As always, give us a call or send through an email if you would like personalised advice on which products are best suited to you!

Useful resources:

Australasian Lymphology Association for education and to find a practitioner