Thousands of cancer patients with swollen limbs face postcode lottery
Cancer patients suffering from lymphoedema – where limbs to swell to double their usual size – which affects 400,000 people in the UK face NHS postcode lottery for life-changing treatments, senior medics warn
- Cancer patients with lymphoedema can see limbs to swell to double usual size
- NHS postcode lottery means thousands miss life-changing surgery medics say
- The condition affects around 400k Britons after cancer damages lymph nodes
- Patients often receive regular massage to move built-up fluid around the body
- Surgery fixes the problem but only a few NHS authorities are willing to fund it
Thousands of cancer patients who suffer unsightly swelling in their arms and legs are missing out on life-changing treatments due to an NHS postcode lottery, senior medics have warned.
The British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (Bapras) has called for more NHS patients to have access to cutting-edge surgery to banish lymphoedema – a condition where fluid collects in parts of the body, often causing limbs to swell to twice their normal size.
Lymphoedema currently affects an estimated 400,000 people in the UK.
Many cases are due to cancers that damage the lymph nodes – tiny, bean-shaped nodules throughout the body that filter fluids to break down bacteria and germs.
The British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (Bapras) has called for more NHS patients to have access to cutting-edge surgery to banish lymphoedema – a condition where fluid collects in parts of the body, often causing limbs to swell to twice their normal size
Lymphoedema currently affects an estimated 400,000 people in the UK
Some cancer patients need these nodes removed if tumour cells have already spread to them, while treatments such as radiotherapy can damage them, causing fluid to build up.
The swollen limbs can leave some sufferers struggling to get dressed, put on their shoes or even do everyday chores such as washing up and carrying shopping.
Current NHS treatment relies mainly on regular massages to disperse the fluid, and patients often have to wear uncomfortable compression stockings or sleeves – in many cases for the rest of their lives – to help push the excess fluid round the system.
While surgery offers a permanent solution to the problem, only a handful of NHS authorities are willing to fund it.
Surgery includes an operation called vascularised lymph node transfer, in which healthy nodes from other parts of the body are moved to affected areas.
‘Procedures such as this have proven benefits but are not routinely offered or funded on the NHS,’ says Ruth Waters, Bapras president and a consultant plastic surgeon.
‘Some patients are able to secure individual NHS funding, and in some areas access may be better than others.
‘But there is a pressing need to get better information and access to treatment for the public.’
With surgery, says Waters, patients ‘recover quicker, get back to work and are able to live their lives to the full, post-cancer’.
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