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Types of treatment for lymphoedema

There are different types of treatment for lymphoedema, including some newer treatments. There is also more research going on.

The aim of lymphoedema treatment

Lymphoedema can’t usually be cured, but it can be controlled.

The aim of treatment is to:

  • reduce swelling when possible
  • prevent problems, such as infection
  • help you to live as normally as possible

Once your treatment has reduced swelling, keep following your specialist’s advice to try and stop it getting worse again.

It can be difficult to cope with a condition that you need to think about every day. But once your lymphoedema is under control, the things you need to do will gradually become part of your daily routine.

It also helps to have support from people around you. It can make things easier for you if they understand what you need to do.

Types of treatment for lymphoedema

The treatment plan for lymphoedema is sometimes called complex decongestive therapy (CDT). 

The main treatments for lymphoedema are:

  • skin care – keeping skin in the swollen area clean, dry and moisturised and preventing injury and infection
  • reducing swelling – with specialised massage called manual lymphatic massage (MLD), compression bandaging, compression pumps, or compression garments
  • exercise – to keep lymph flowing through the lymphatic system and help you to maintain a healthy weight

An important part of treatment is that you learn how to manage your lymphoedema. Many people don’t need specialist treatment.

Instead, your lymphoedema specialist teaches you how to care for your skin and how to wear compression garments if you need them. They also show you exercises that help keep the lymph flowing.

Other types of treatment

Surgery

Surgery is very rarely considered as a treatment for lymphoedema. Rarely, a specialist might suggest surgery to try to get lymph fluid to flow around a blockage in the lymphatic system.

Liposuction

Liposuction is another rare type of surgery. It’s sometimes used in advanced lymphoedema.

It involves surgically removing extra fatty tissues through several small cuts in the skin, using a vacuum. This can be done under general anaesthetic.

After the procedure, you wear a compression bandage and keep the limb raised up for a few days. After a couple of weeks you start wearing a specially made compression garment, instead of the bandage. You need to wear this for the rest of your life, to reduce the risk of the swelling returning.

This is a very specialist treatment and is only done in a few hospitals.  

Taping

Taping is a new way of managing lymphoedema. The lymphoedema specialist sticks special tapes on your skin. The idea is that the tape lifts the skin and helps the muscles work to help the lymph fluid to drain.

The tape is waterproof and can be worn for several days. It is also called Kinesiotaping. Your lymphoedema specialist can tell you more. 

There are also some newer treatments. And there are research studies into preventing lymphoedema and spotting it earlier.  

Last reviewed: 
01 Apr 2014
  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    Tobias J and Hochhauser D
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Lymphoedema Care
    Woods, M
    Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007

  • Short Life Working Group on Lymphoedema
    Scottish Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee Report (SMASAC), 2013

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