Side effects of isolated limb perfusion

The side effects of isolated limb perfusion usually only affect the treated limb. These usually improve in the weeks after treatment finishes. Your health care team will discuss possible side effects with you. Do let them know if you have any side effects as there are ways to help.

Common symptoms of ILP are:

  • Pain and stiffness
  • Swelling and redness
  • Blisters and peeling skin
  • Risk of infection
  • Hair loss
  • Nail changes
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Lymphoedema

About six weeks after your procedure, you will see your specialist. It can take time for ILP to shrink melanomas, so you may notice them getting smaller months after the procedure.

Some people find it hard to cope with their feelings when they find out their melanoma has come back. You may find it helpful to talk to your family and friends, or you can ask your doctor or nurse for advice on how to cope.

Possible side effects of ILP

The side effects of ILP usually only affect the treated limb. Your specialist will explain them to you and tell you what you can expect. The side effects of ILP usually get better after 6-8 weeks, but in some people they may last longer. Let your doctor or nurse know about any side effects or problems you’re having. There’s usually something they can do to make things easier


Pain and stiffness

After the operation you’re likely to have some pain in the limb, and your muscles and joints might be inflamed. This means you’ll feel stiff and uncomfortable when you’re moving about. You will be given painkillers to take regularly to control the pain. You’ll probably need to take them for several weeks. Let your doctor or nurse know if you’re still in pain so that they can prescribe a stronger painkiller.


Swelling and redness

Your limb may become red and swollen. This usually starts about 48 hours after your treatment and is most noticeable after a week. The swelling gradually reduces over 2–3 months. The redness will gradually fade to brown and become lighter over the next few months. The skin colour of your limb should go back to normal after about six months, but some people are permanently left with a slight darkening of the skin.


Blisters and peeling skin

You may get blisters or peeling skin after treatment. This can be on the sole of your foot if you have ILP on your leg, or on the palm of your hand if you have ILP on your arm. This usually happens in the first two weeks after treatment but it will gradually heal.


Risk of infection

During ILP, small amounts of the chemotherapy drug may get into the rest of your body. This can temporarily reduce the number of infection-fighting cells (white blood cells) in your blood and increase your risk of infection. Your white blood cells will gradually recover, but you may have to stay in hospital for a bit longer until they do. You’ll have regular blood tests to check this.


Hair loss

You’ll lose the hair on the leg or arm that’s been treated, but this will grow back again. Very occasionally, people also have a little thinning of the hair on their head but this is not usually noticeable.


Nail changes

A few weeks after treatment, you may notice changes to your nails on the treated limb. They may develop lines or sometimes a nail may come off. If this happens, a new nail will grow in its place.


Numbness or tingling

You may get numbness or tingling after treatment. This will be in your foot if you have ILP on your leg, or in your hand if you have ILP on your arm. It is due to the effect of the chemotherapy drugs on your nerves and is called peripheral neuropathy. Tell your doctor if this happens. It usually improves slowly over a few months but is sometimes permanent.


Lymphoedema

A possible long-term side effect of ILP is a permanent swelling of the treated limb, known as lymphoedema. We have more information in our section on lymphoedema.


Follow-up

You’ll be seen at the surgical outpatient clinic, usually about six weeks after the procedure. After this you’ll be seen every few months, unless you live far from the hospital where you had ILP. In this situation you’ll be seen by your own cancer specialist or dermatologist, so that you don’t have to travel far.

It can take time for ILP to shrink the melanomas, and you may still notice them getting smaller months after the procedure. Even if ILP has been successful, the melanoma sometimes leaves a discoloured mark on your skin.


Your feelings

When melanoma has come back, it’s usual to have times when you find your emotions difficult to cope with. Coping with any physical changes caused by the melanoma or its treatment can also be hard. Everyone copes differently with their emotions, and there’s no right or wrong way. It’s important to get the support you need. Talking to family and friends about how you’re feeling often helps. You can also talk to your doctor or nurse for support. Some people may prefer to talk to a counsellor. Your doctor or nurse can give you more advice about this.

Back to Isolated limb perfusion

What is chemotherapy into a limb?

Isolated limb perfusion gives chemotherapy directly into a limb to treat clusters of melanomas that have come back in the same area.