Lymphoedema usually develops gradually and can occur months or even years after treatment is finished. There’s no known cure for lymphoedema, but it can be managed with appropriate care.

Lymphoedema after breast cancer is caused by damage to or removal of lymph nodes from the armpit or breast area. Lymph nodes may be damaged by radiotherapy or surgery as treatment for breast cancer. The risk seems to be higher for people who have several lymph nodes removed and for those who have both surgery and radiotherapy to the lymph nodes. However, many people who have lymph nodes removed and radiotherapy to the armpit don’t develop the condition.

Current evidence suggests that around one in five women treated for breast cancer will develop lymphoedema.

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