Long haul flight 6 weeks after surgery??!

Hello all yet another question!
I am 25, normally very fit and healthy and have almost finished 3xFEC and 3xTAX, last one on 31st October! My mastectomy is due on 2nd Dec but due to questionable nodes on biopsy don’t know what they will do with them. I am likely to need radiotherapy 3 months after surgery.
Now, my brother lives in Australia and I have the opportunity to go and visit him and his family, (free flight!!!) but has to be taken before february. So my questions are these:
Is it crazy to think i will be ready to travel 6 weeks after surgery?
Is it puting me at unnecessary risk of developing lymphoedema? And is this risk higher depending on how many lymph nodes need to be taken.
Will this risk decrease with time post surgery or is it always going to be there?

I would really like to go but equally if it is a crazy idea then I definately won’t. Peoples personal experience and opinions would be great
Thank you

Hi Charlie

Lucky you, with a free flight to Oz on offer!

What a lot of questions! To take them one at a time…I flew to NZ seven weeks (they told me six weeks was the absolute minimum - I would check with your docs) after a hysterectomy with no ill effects. A MX is minor compared to that, so that’s a plus point.

But…when lymph nodes are involved…there is good anecdotal evidence that flying can cause or worsen lymphoedema due to the reduced cabin pressure. But people with lymphoedema (like me) don’t give up flying, and people liable to develop it are becoming more aware of the triggers and how to avoid or minimise the risks. I would do everything you can to be fitted with a compression sleeve to be worn prophylactically on the flight - this is about the single best thing you can do for your arm. If your bcn is on the ball, she should be able to tell you how to get one (you may have to get it privately, depending on what your local NHS lymphoedema services are like) and arrange for you to talk to your local lymphoedema nurse/clinic. Prevention is the ideal - lymphoedema remains incurable, though not untreatable.

If that fails, I would say to… try to break your journey somewhere (Singapore?) for 24 hours, so your arm gets a break at sea level - a swim would be a tremendous bonus for it. Get the best seat you can afford - an upgrade to business class does wonders for ‘at-risk’ arms - but even an extra leg-room seat in economy or economy plus will give your recovering bod a bit more comfort. And the usual…drink plenty of fluids, move around as much as you can (that’s so easy on a plane!), deep breathing and shoulder rolling help to keep lymph fluid moving.

Even people who have SNBs have been known to develop lymphoedema, but the risk is thought to be less. It rises considerably (by about a factor of six) if surgery is followed by radiotherapy. The average time for onset of lymphoedema is about two and a half years post treatment, but the risk remains for the rest of your life. There are plenty of people posting on here who have developed it years later and recent research has shown that, of a group of breast cancer patients 49% had lymphoedema 20 years down the line. More long term survivors = more lymphoedema (though not necessarily more help or treatment available) .

Sorry if all this sounds depressing. Don’t be upset by it! I’ve got lymphoedema in both arms and I don’t fear flying - have done plenty of long haul - it doesn’t actually seem to bother my arms that much! I personally find the hard unyielding armrests in airline seats much more of a problem for my arms than the reduced cabin pressure.

But I’d really, really recommend a sleeve.



Thank you so much for all the information it doesn’t sound too depressing but know what could possibly be in store.

I did what you suggested and called my breast care nurse to get info/speak to lymphoedema clinic but she was really dismissive of wearing a sleeve and said they are only to be used for people with lymphoedema and not prophylatically… I am going off her rapidly (!). I looked at the lymphnet.org today and they also suggest a sleeve may be suitable for someone at risk! Maybe I should email her that link?

Thank you again for all the info

Hi Chalie

I flight long haul 3 weeks after my surgry- i had lumpectomy and SNB. My nurse said it was ok to go before I did it. But I did not fly that far!! I think to OZ= 2 long hauls. I 'd check with the nurse / doctor before booking anything really.

In general- it was more tirying than ever. But my situation is

  • i am 31, normally very fit- had not have chemo before my operation
  • i fly long haul at least every 3-4 month
  • i flied business class this time , which i allowed me to lay down most of the time, also shorten the time for checking in and everything else
  • hand laugguge only - so i did not have to wait for my suitcase to come out.

Even with all these, i still find it was very tiring…

So i think if you have to go- try to make other arragnement as smmoth as possible, which might help…

take care


Hi Charlie

Maybe you should! It’s a shame you didn’t get more encouragement for such a pro-active approach.

I think the trend in the States is to measure and fit people with a sleeve to wear BEFORE they have any problems, the idea being that they wear it when their lymphatic system is under extra load, ie exercising, ironing, hoovering, working at a PC for long periods, FLYING and give it a bit of extra help when it is at its most vulnerable. Makes perfect sense to me! (I wish to goodness I 'd had one one before I had problems).

You could also consult a private therapist (try www.mlduk.org.uk - it’s the official site of the professional association of manual lymphatic drainage practitioners in the UK and you should be able to contact a fully qualified one, hopefully not too far away from you, through them), who will be able to advise you and measure you for a sleeve if s/he thinks it’s a good idea for your trip - you don’t have to go through the NHS for this.

Good luck, do post again - I’d love to hear how you get on.