The Royal Marsden

Lymphoedema patients now benefit from quicker service

Waiting times to see a lymphoedema specialist at The Royal Marsden have been reduced thanks to an improved referral service.

Mary Woods, Lead Nurse for Lymphoedema Services, with a patient

The Trust’s lymphoedema therapists support patients who develop swelling related to cancer treatment involving their lymph glands, such as surgery or radiotherapy. The condition can affect any part of the body but usually develops in the arms or legs, causing aching and swelling.

It develops when lymph nodes or vessels are removed, damaged or blocked, causing a build-up of fluid in the body’s tissues. There is no cure, but treatments such as skin care, use of a special compression garment, exercise, massage and lifestyle adjustments can reduce the swelling considerably.

Mary Woods, Lead Nurse for Lymphoedema Services, has worked at The Royal Marsden since 1981, and in 2014 received a lifetime achievement award from the British Lymphology Society. She said: “We have made improvements to the pathway for patients referred to the lymphoedema service by developing a Lead Nurse role.

“This enables me to triage and assess patients and direct them for further treatment within the lymphoedema service or with the medical consultant. This has reduced waiting times and so patients receive advice and treatment much quicker.

“People come to us with a lot of anxiety and the swelling is a reminder of what they’ve been through. Our aim is to reduce the swelling and risk of infection and improve their quality of life.”

Our aim is to reduce the swelling and infection risk and improve quality of life

Mary Woods, Lead Nurse for Lymphoedema Services

Pioneering surgery

Over the past three years, the lymphoedema service has been involved in pioneering a microsurgical technique suitable for a small group of patients, which involves redirecting lymph fluid to improve drainage. Three months after the operation, 90% of patients see an improvement, while 60% see a longstanding improvement after two years.

Kelvin Ramsey, Consultant Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, said: “We are the only place in the country to routinely offer our NHS patients this operation. It doesn’t work for everyone, but we’re launching a randomised trial this year to work out exactly who it will benefit.

“All of this wouldn’t have been possible without Mary and her extremely professional lymphoedema team.”