Your doctor, specialist nurse or physiotherapist will know which cancer and treatments you’ve had in the past, and will assess whether your symptoms are due to lymphoedema. You’ll be asked about any other signs or symptoms you’ve had, and the swollen limb or area will be examined. Not all swelling is lymphoedema and sometimes tests are needed to rule out other possible causes, such as a blood clot. Some people may need to have scans to find out if the lymphoedema is caused by a cancer affecting the lymph nodes.
If you have any signs or symptoms of lymphoedema, contact your hospital doctor, specialist nurse, physiotherapist or GP for advice. Treatment can improve lymphoedema and the earlier it’s started the more straightforward and successful it’s likely to be.
If lymphoedema is diagnosed, you’ll be referred for specialist assessment. Health professionals with specialist knowledge in treating lymphoedema may include:
- specialist lymphoedema nurses
- breast care nurses
Here, the term lymphoedema specialist refers to any one of these health professionals.
This is carried out by a lymphoedema specialist who will assess whether your lymphoedema is mild, moderate or severe.
The specialist will ask you about your medical history, look for any changes in your skin and check its condition. They will also assess the size and shape of the limb and how the tissue under the skin feels. The size of the limb may be measured with a tape measure and compared to the unaffected limb. The specialist will also check whether your movement and ability to do everyday things are affected.
Occasionally, other special tests may be used when it’s difficult to diagnose lymphoedema.
Specialist lymphoedema centres
In some areas of the UK, there are specialist lymphoedema centres where treatment and advice are given. Your doctor or nurse should be able to tell you if there’s one in your area, or you can contact the British Lymphology Society, which produces a directory of centres. If you don’t live close to a centre, there are other organisations that can offer advice and support.