Ahead of Lymphoedema Awareness Day on Tuesday 6 March, the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) is joining the Australasian Lymphology Association (ALA) in calling on the federal government to support Medicare funding for Australians living with this chronic illness.

National Chair of the APA Cancer, Lymphoedema and Palliative Care group, Elise Gane, said the illness is not widely understood, but is a common side effect of cancer surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. “When lymph nodes are removed or damaged, fluid build-up and painful swelling often occurs in the limbs, breast, neck or genital regions.”

“Physios who treat lymphoedema patients have good success in helping them relieve discomfort and get better joint movement in the affected area. In particular, lymphoedema-trained physios are expert at managing patients’ lymphatic drainage, applying compression bandaging and organising appropriate compression garments to relive their often considerable discomfort.”

“This allows patients to be more physically active and engaged in their work and social roles, which has an immeasurably positive effect on their outlook.”

Because lymphoedema therapy has not been allocated its own Medicare number, patients suffer unnecessarily with pain and discomfort due to lack of affordable treatment. Improved awareness and federal government support of specialist lymphoedema services via the ALAs ‘Take time to talk about lymphoedema’ campaign will help patients manage the considerable out of pocket expenses associated with their treatment, which averages $977 a year for women with breast cancer-related arm lymphoedema alone.1

ALA President Leonie Naumann supports the work of specialist physiotherapists in this area, saying “One in every 6,000 people live with primary lymphoedema and approximately 20% of all cancer survivors develop secondary lymphoedema. There is currently no cure for lymphoedema but it can be managed by a qualified lymphoedema therapist.”

A public forum in Brisbane on 19 May will see a range of experts, including APA physiotherapists, talking to patients and their families about the latest research and evidence relating to best practice management of lymphoedema. Details can be found here.

1Boyages J, Xu Y, Kalfa S, Koelmeyer L, Parkinson B, Mackie H, Viveros H, Gollan P, Taksa L. Financial cost of lymphedema borne by women with breast cancer. Psycho-Oncol. 2017;26:849-855.

Elise Gane is available for further comment or interview.


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