Lymphoedema: the importance of early detection

March is Lymphoedema Awareness Month, dedicated to shedding light on a condition that affects many individuals worldwide. Lymphoedema is a chronic condition characterised by swelling, tightness, and other symptoms. Secondary lymphoedema, often associated with cancer treatments, surgeries, injuries, or infections, presents unique challenges for individuals grappling with this condition. Cancer-related lymphoedema stands out as a prevalent form of secondary lymphoedema that can significantly impact one’s quality of life.

The National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre (NBOCC 2008) review of research evidence on Secondary Lymphoedema states “conservative estimates suggest that 20% of breast, genitourinary, gynaecological, or melanoma survivors will experience secondary lymphoedema”.

At Cancer Rehabilitation & Lymphatic Solutions, our mission is to educate people – not just about the risks of developing lymphoedema, but also what’s to be expected throughout your cancer treatment, recovery, and what’s involved in cancer rehabilitation. We focus on regaining movement and mobility, managing fatigue, and preparing individuals for each stage of their treatment. It’s about providing that extra level of care to the people we treat, because we understand that they’re more than just patients!


Causes of lymphoedema

Lymphoedema can be classified into primary and secondary forms. Primary lymphoedema arises from developmental, genetic conditions affecting the lymphatic system.

Secondary, or acquired, lymphoedema occurs following damage to the lymphatic system. This is from external factors such as cancer treatments, surgeries, injuries, infections, obesity, and certain medical conditions. These factors can disrupt the normal flow of lymphatic fluid in the body, leading to the accumulation of fluid and subsequent swelling in the affected area.

This disruption can occur due to various reasons related to cancer or its treatment, such as when cancer or a tumour blocks the flow of lymph fluid, surgery for cancer disrupts the flow of lymph fluid, or radiation therapy causes scar tissue that blocks the flow of lymph fluid. Additionally, treatments like surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted cancer drugs, and immunotherapy can contribute to the development of lymphoedema.

It is essential to be aware of these potential triggers to better understand and manage lymphoedema.


What does lymphoedema look like?

Lymphoedema is characterised by swelling in the arms or legs, but it can also affect other areas like the chest, abdomen, neck, and genitals. The main symptoms include swelling, heaviness or tightness, restricted range of motion, recurring infections, and skin changes. As the condition progresses, skin thickening and scarring may become noticeable. This can lead to challenges in daily activities, discomfort, and emotional distress, and it may also affect body image and self-esteem.

Severe cases of chronic lymphoedema may require surgery to remove swollen tissue or create new drainage routes, so early diagnosis and treatment of lymphoedema is crucial to prevent further complications.


Areas affected by lymphoedema

While lymphoedema is most commonly found in the limbs, including arms and legs, it can affect any part of the body. From breasts and genitals to the neck and face, lymphoedema can manifest in various areas. Understanding that lymphoedema is not limited to specific body parts is essential for early detection and appropriate management strategies.


Catching lymphoedema early

Early detection of lymphoedema plays a vital role in implementing preventative strategies to offer individuals a better chance at a comfortable and empowered life. We do this by utilising advanced SOZO technology, promoting excellence in healthcare for people living with lymphoedema.

The SOZO system is an innovative tool used for early lymphoedema detection by analysing changes in body composition and fluid levels. It provides an L-Dex (lymphoedema index) score, allowing us to identify subtle changes indicative of lymphoedema progression before visible symptoms appear. It’s through this advanced technology that patients at Cancer Rehabilitation & Lymphatic Solutions can access timely interventions that may help reverse symptoms or prevent them from progressing.

By capturing L-Dex readings for all of our patients, we’re able to tell a story. We know that when we’ve been experiencing hot weather, L-Dex readings for most patients are elevated. And if you have a virus and your lymphatic system is working overtime you may experience a spike in swelling symptoms, we can prescribe made to measure compression garments. We tailor the solution to fit your unique, evolving situation. And we can reassure you that what you’re experiencing is both normal and manageable.


Q&A with Mel Luxford

Kate: Could you share the challenges you faced in the private hospital system during your cancer treatment journey?

Mel: Absolutely. I felt a sense of uncertainty and being forgotten after chemo and radiotherapy. There was a lack of awareness about post-treatment care and managing lymphoedema, making me feel like just another part of the process rather than a person in need of support. There’s only so many scientific journals that you can read, and they give you scientific information, but no emotional information… I had four L-Dex measurements after surgery that told me I was on the right track, but then you don’t actually know where to go next.

Kate: How did you feel about the support and information provided by Cancer Rehabilitation & Lymphatic Solutions?

Mel: When I first came to CRLS and Caitlin was talking to me, I started crying because finally someone was speaking a language I understood, explaining things clearly, and made me realise I haven’t done something wrong, I haven’t skipped a step – what I was going through was normal and manageable. It was a huge relief to feel understood!

Having a team be so upfront and supportive gives a sense of relief and calm. It’s multi-layered, with physical, preventative & psychological benefits – it’s not one-sided, you’re not pigeonholed, it’s not just about the L-Dex. There tends to be an assumption that once you’ve finished chemo and radiotherapy that you’ll go back to normal, so to walk into an environment where you all understand is so powerful and hugely important.

Everyone stops at the word cancer, but we need to normalise talking about cancer rehabilitation. People need to understand that it’s a process that goes beyond surgery, that there’s a whole piece after this, and surgery for cancer requires rehab just like any other serious surgery.

Kate: Can you describe the impact of the OncoLaser treatment using MLS Laser Therapy?

Mel: The physical improvement I’ve felt since starting OncoLaser treatment is dramatic. Like, it’s actually unbelievable! It’s instantaneous. The relief from the release is the most relaxing feeling, and I started to feel a bit like me again.

Kate: One of the biological effects of the MLS laser is that it softens the tissue, allowing for more blood flow through the area. That, combined with our gentle hands-on cupping, softens the tissue instantaneously.

Kate: What advice would you give to individuals going through cancer treatment based on your experience?

Mel: Do not settle for generic information that is not specifically designed for you. Talk to other patients – we’re a chatty bunch! – and advocate for tailored care. If something feels off, know that you don’t have to live in discomfort for the rest of your life.


Can lymphoedema be treated?

While lymphoedema cannot be cured, the good news is that it can be managed effectively with early diagnosis and treatment from an accredited lymphoedema practitioner. Kate Perkins, Cancer Rehab Occupational Therapist (OT) and Lymphoedema Therapist, utilises gold standard of care advanced protocols including but not limited to,  OncoLaser™ treatment using MLS® Laser Therapy, compression therapy, manual lymphatic drainage massage, and exercise. This combination can significantly minimise the risk of lymphoedema symptoms becoming a chronic lifelong condition.

These treatment modalities aim to reduce swelling, improve lymphatic flow, and enhance overall quality of life for individuals living with lymphoedema.



Lymphoedema Awareness Month serves as an opportunity to educate individuals about this common, but often misunderstood, condition and highlight the importance of early detection and proactive management. By raising awareness about lymphoedema and its impact on daily life, we can empower individuals to take control of their health and seek appropriate support when needed.


If you’re at risk of developing lymphoedema, the team at Cancer Rehabilitation & Lymphatic Solutions are here to support you.