Lymphoedema in a patient receiving palliative care


In people with cancer, lymphoedema may arise because the lymphatic vessels or nodes have been damaged. This may occur as a result of:

  • lymph node metastases
  • infiltrative carcinoma
  • lymphoma
  • pressure from large tumours
  • cancer treatment including the removal of lymph nodes
  • radiotherapy to lymph node groups.

The onset of lymphoedema may be at any time occurring within months of the damage or appearing years later.

For patients with life-threatening illness and lymphoedema palliative care is applicable early in the course of illness. The lymphoedema care must be timely and appropriate. For example, lymphedema in the palliative patient requires a modified treatment approach and a redefinition of the goals of care. The aim of lymphoedema management is preserved function and comfort which can be continued until the last days of life.
“Adapting lymphoedema treatment for the palliative patient ‘Do no harm’ is the guiding principle. The burden of treatment must not exceed the benefit to the patient” (Honnor, 2008).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines palliative care as:

[A]n approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.

Learning outcomes for this module:

  • Understand what lymphoedema is and how it presents.
  • Know what questions to ask in the history and what to look for in the examination when assessing a patient with limb swelling.
  • Be able to give advice to patients with lymphoedema on the cause of the swelling and what management is available.


Once you have completed this short course and quiz, please click 'submit' where you will be taken to the results page. From here you can print your certificate for 1 Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hour.


This quiz was written by Shona Walford, RN, LCP facilitator, Waipuna Hospice and modified by Professor Rod MacLeod, Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland. It was reviewed in 2017 by Dr Karen Falloon.

The material is presented by the Goodfellow Unit (GFU), an accredited continuing medical education/ continuing professional development (CME/CPD) provider for the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners and functions under a tripartite agreement between the Goodfellow Foundation, the College and the University of Auckland. The Unit is located within the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, and within the School of Population Health.


Sign in to start this course.

Sign in Register

(If you are not already a Goodfellow member click the Register button. It takes less than a minute and is completely free)