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L-W-O Community

For those living with Primary, Secondary & Paediatric Lymphoedema Online & in the Community

Secondary Lymphoedema

Why is the lymphatic system important to us?  This video takes a brief look at the lymphatic system explains 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.

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. 

Not everyone who has cancer or cancer treatment will develop 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.

Free Prescriptions


In members group one of our greatest achievements was through our member Rosie who found out and shared that patients with secondary lymphoedema were entitled to free prescriptions.  The relevant wording comes at the end of the document which I put here in brief.

"The effects of cancer treatment" may be in respect of current treatment or previous treatment and could arise sometime after the treatment.  They include all the side-effects of cytotoxic drugs listed in chapter 8 of BNF and includes prevention of side-effects of these drugs.  This is an example, not exhaustive, and effects of treatment also include effects of radiation, including the need for camouflages, and secondary lymphoedema.

Source: Department of Health, January 2009.

Page Created 03/04/2021