Lymphoedema occurs when the lymphatic system is unable to remove all the fluid which leaks from the blood vessels. When that occurs, the fluid (and its contents) accumulates in the tissues. This can occur anywhere in the body.

Secondary Lymphoedema is the name used when the lymphatic system is damaged by surgery and/or radiotherapy associated with treatment for cancer.

Primary Lymphoedema is the name used when the lymphatic system has not formed properly. It can appear at birth, puberty or later in life.

Lymphoedema develops at varying rates, but as it progresses the tissues change from being mostly fluid rich, to fatty and then to fibrous. Lymphoedema can be controlled when the lymphatic system is assisted in working more effectively and when fibrosis is kept to a minimum.

Symptoms of Lymphoedema

  • Heaviness or tightness in affected limb
  • Swelling/oedema
  • Aches and pains in limb with possible tingling sensation in hand or foot.

Professor Neil Piller
Long-term advisor to and supporter of the Tasmanian Lymphoedema Centre, Neil Piller, is a Professor in Lymphology and Director of the Lymphoedema Assessment Clinic in Flinders Surgical Oncology, and a member of the Department of Surgery, School of Medicine at the Flinders University Medical Centre in Adelaide, South Australia.