Treating lymphoedema in more difficult to treat areas

Lymphoedema can develop in other parts of the body, including the:

  • breast or chest
  • genital area
  • head and neck.

As with any lymphoedema, skin care, exercise and keeping to a healthy weight are important parts of treatment.

If you have breast or chest lymphoedema, you should avoid wearing clothes or bras that are too tight. If you wear a breast prosthesis, choose a lightweight one. Compression can be given using made-to-measure compression vests or bras. Lymphatic drainage and Kinesio® taping can also be used.

If you have lymphoedema in the genital area, good skin care is important as infections are more common. Lymphatic drainage is often used to treat this area. Compression can be given using specially made garments, sports clothing or shapewear underwear. Pelvic floor exercises and deep breathing can also help. Occasionally, surgery may be used.

Lymphoedema of the head or neck is usually treated with lymphatic drainage. Sometimes it is possible to use special compression garments on the area, but compression should never be used on the neck. Surgery is sometimes used for lymphoedema affecting the eyelids.

Treatment for more difficult to treat areas

Lymphoedema is most common in an arm or a leg. But it can affect different parts of the body. This depends on which lymph nodes have been removed or affected.

As with treatment for arm or leg lymphoedema, good skin care is important. Exercising, keeping to a healthy weight and taking good care of yourself are also important. Your specialist will explain the best way of managing and treating lymphoedema in other parts of your body.

Breast or chest lymphoedema

Clothing, bras and prostheses

Clothes that are too tight can stop lymph fluid draining. These can include bras, vests, or anything with a tight waistband.

You should make sure your bra is not too tight around the chest. The straps should not dig into your shoulders or under the arm. Try wearing a bra that has wide and flexible shoulder straps and bands around the chest. It is also important to make sure you have the right cup size. Your lymphoedema specialist can advise you on getting measured correctly.

Some breast prostheses are very heavy. This can cause pressure to the chest area, making the shoulder straps on a bra dig in. If you need to wear a prosthesis, try to get a lightweight one. Your lymphoedema specialist can advise you about bras and breast prostheses.

Compression bras and vests

If you have breast or chest lymphoedema, your specialist can give you compression bras and specialist vests. You often need to have these made specially for you, to make sure they fit properly. It can also be helpful to wear a sports bra.

You may also need to wear a compression sleeve. This is to stop the fluid moving from one area to another. It can also help improve drainage. You do not often have compression bandaging to treat lymphoedema in the breast or chest area.

Lymphatic drainage (MLD and SLD)

You may have manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) and simple lymphatic drainage (SLD) to treat breast and chest lymphoedema.

Your lymphatic drainage therapist can give you more information about this.

Lymphoedema taping (Kinesio® taping)

This is a special taping technique that goes directly onto the skin. The tape is made of an elastic cotton material. When the tape is stretched and stuck onto the skin, it gently lifts the top layer of skin. This may help lymph fluid close to the skin to flow more easily.

Genital lymphoedema

It is important to look after your skin and keep it clean. Skin infections can be more common in the genital area. Genital lymphoedema is usually treated with MLD or SLD.

You may have specially made compression garments. These can be padded to protect swollen areas. Sports clothing or shapewear underwear containing lycra may also help. This will depend on how much swelling there is.

Pelvic floor and tummy (abdominal) exercises, combined with deep breathing exercises can help reduce swelling. Your lymphoedema specialist can show you how to do these.

If you have swelling in the scrotum, your specialist may give you a scrotal support. They may use bandaging if the penis is swollen.

Your specialist can tell you more about what might be helpful in your situation. Occasionally, you may have surgery to treat genital lymphoedema. Your doctor will discuss this with you.

Head and neck lymphoedema

You can usually manage lymphoedema of the face, neck or head with MLD and SLD. Sometimes, you can have Kinesio® taping. You may have special, low-pressure [compression garments] to use in this area of the body. But you should never have compression to the neck area. You sometimes have surgery to treat lymphoedema of the eyelids.