Breast Cancer in men

Lymphoedema

Lymphoedema is a type of swelling of the arm or hand that sometimes happens as a result of breast cancer treatment. It can occur if the lymph nodes in the armpit have been removed by surgery, or if radiotherapy has been given to the armpit. It is usually mild and develops gradually a few months or several years after treatment. Lymphoedema is more likely if both surgery and radiotherapy to the underarm have taken place. 

Here men discuss their experiences of lymphoedema. Although all of the men we interviewed had lymph nodes removed, usually at the same time as their mastectomy was performed, only a few men later suffered from lymphoedema.
Various things can be done to lower the risk of getting lymphoedema or lessen its severity if it does develop including protecting the skin, preventing infection and avoiding muscle strain or things that squeeze or constrict the arm.
Michael had a sentinel node biopsy when he later had surgery on the other side of his chest.
Men talked about having the swelling of their arms measured as a means of diagnosing or monitoring lymphoedema. Many hospitals have a nurse who specialises in treating lymphoedema. Compression sleeves and/or gloves are often given to wear on the affected arm to help to control the symptoms. Special massage techniques and exercise can also improve the swelling.
All men, even those who did not suffer from lymphoedema, had been given information about the signs and symptoms of the condition. However, one man described his first visit to the lymphoedema nurse and how he felt the need to seek out further information afterwards.
Depending on its severity, lymphoedema can have an impact on everyday life. Eddie who had mild lymphoedema was careful not to get an infection in his affected arm while on holiday. John had severe lymphoedema which affected his ability to use his arm to do everyday tasks.


Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated October 2013.

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