Lymphoedema early intervention pilot to help breast cancer surgery patients

Photo courtesy Healthier Hawaii.

People who have undergone breast surgery for cancer will benefit from an NSW Health pilot program, Early Intervention and Prevention of Chronic Lymphoedema, launching in 13 local health districts (LHDs) across NSW this month.

The pilot aims to screen and assess people (mainly women) who have undergone breast surgery for cancer, for the early stages of lymphoedema.

Lymphoedema is the accumulation of excessive amounts of fluid, resulting in swelling and pain to different parts of the body. People with lymphoedema often require regular treatments by a specialist clinician, which may include bandaging and wearing compression garments.

“Lymphoedema is a lifelong, chronic condition that can be debilitating and affects many breast cancer survivors,” NSW Chief Allied Health Officer, Andrew Davison said.

“Conservative estimates are that as many as 500 patients a year who have had breast surgery in NSW public hospitals will develop lymphoedema. We are hoping to reduce that by more than half.”

The pilot aims to assess and monitor up to 2,500 people yearly who have had surgery in a NSW public hospital across 13 LHDs.

“Participants are followed up for 12-24 months after surgery by a lymphoedematrained physiotherapist or occupational therapist and provided with early intervention if the early stages of lymphoedema is detected,” Mr Davison said.

Twenty physiotherapy and occupational therapy allied health professionals have already undergone training in lymphoedema therapy, with an additional four being trained later in the year. Fifteen of those are from rural and remote LHDs.

Twenty-five SOZO body composition analyser machines are also being provided to support the detection and treatment of the early stages of lymphoedema.

The model of care was developed in consultation with NSW Health physiotherapists and occupational therapists working in lymphoedema management, the Australasian Lymphology Association and Macquarie University.

The Commonwealth-funded pilot will run until June 2024. LHDs will match funding with in-kind allied health clinician time. There will also be a comprehensive evaluation to identify the ongoing benefits and value of the model of care to patients.