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Lymphodema pilot program

Nepean Cancer Care Centre Allied Health Team Leader, Glyndon Wakeman and readings received from the SOZO body composition
analyser machine

Lymphoedema program set to help breast cancer surgery patients

26 Mar 2021


For breast cancer survivors, developing lymphoedema after their treatment can be a devastating and life-changing blow.

A NSW Health pilot program, Early Intervention and Prevention of Chronic Lymphoedema, now underway at Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District (NBMLHD) hopes to more than halve the number of patients who will develop the condition.

Lymphoedema can occur after lymph nodes are removed or damaged during surgery. It causes excessive fluid retention and swelling in limbs which can affect mobility and cause severe pain.

Nepean Cancer Care Centre Allied Health Team Leader, Glyndon Wakeman says lymphoedema is a lifelong, chronic condition that can be debilitating and sadly affects many breast cancer survivors.

He explains that NBMLHD is one of 13 Local Health Districts participating in the pilot program.

“The program will screen and assess people, mainly women, who have undergone breast cancer surgery, for the early stages of lymphoedema,” Mr Wakeman explains.

“We’ve established a weekly clinic at Nepean Hospital and a twice monthly clinic at Blue Mountains Hospital. Patients will be seen prior to their surgery and then followed up for 12 to 24 months post-surgery, to monitor for the potential development of lymphoedema,” Mr Wakeman says.

Patients will be referred to the lymphoedema clinics by their surgeons. It’s expected the clinics will see up to 200 new patients a year.

As part of the pilot, two physiotherapy and occupational therapy allied health professionals have undergone training in lymphoedema therapy, adding to the pool of experts available at NBMLHD.

The lymphoedema clinics have also received two SOZO body composition analyser machines, funded through Dry July fundraising for the Nepean Cancer Care Centre. The machines provide a fast and painless way to accurately assess patients for changes in fluid, indicating an increased risk of lymphoedema, before symptoms even become visible.

“March is Lymphoedema Awareness Month and as health professionals we understand the importance of early diagnosis and intervention,” Mr Wakeman says.

“People with lymphoedema face a lifetime of wearing compression bandages and living with the complications from the condition. This can impact on quality of life and for many, is a constant reminder of their cancer treatment.”

If caught early, evidence suggests that people won’t need a lifetime of treatment.

“We hope that through this program we can identify and act early to reduce the number of people who go on to require lymphoedema treatment,” says Mr Wakeman.

The model of care was developed in consultation with NSW Health physiotherapists and occupational therapists working in lymphoedema management, the Australasian Lymphology Association and Macquarie University.

The Commonwealth-funded pilot will run until June 2024.