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Acupuncture on lymphoedema risk arm


Re: Acupuncture on lymphoedema risk arm

Hi Sue H-S

Thanks for posting.

It’s natural to worry about your risk of lymphoedema.

It’s not clear from your post what surgery you had previously.  Lymphoedema can develop soon after treatment or may occur many years later.  The risk is greatest for those who have both surgery and radiotherapy to the axilla (armpit). People who have had a sentinel node biopsy (only) have a reduced risk of developing lymphoedema compared to people who have had a number of lymph nodes removed.

If you’ve had surgery to the lymph nodes (glands) under the arm (axilla) , although there’s no strong evidence that having injections, taking blood, taking a blood pressure reading or having intravenous fluids in your ‘at risk’ arm will cause lymphoedema, you may want to avoid acupuncture needles in the arm, shoulder or hand on that side, to reduce the risk of lymphoedema developing.

Infection in your ‘at risk’ arm can cause swelling and may damage the lymphatic system leading to lymphoedema.  Tips on how to help reduce the risk of infection can be found in the link above.

It may be helpful to contact your breast care nurse or treatment team, if you are still being followed up to discuss the acupuncture your physiotherapist is recommending, as they may be able to offer further advice on its use.

You could also contact MLD UK to speak to a therapist used to looking after those who have had breast cancer surgery and are at risk of lymphoedema.

You may find it helpful to look at the Lymphoedema Support Network website.

Do call our Helpline if you would like to talk this through or have any further questions. Your call will be confidential, and the number is free from UK landlines and all mobile networks.

The number is 0808 800 6000 (Text relay prefix 18001).

If you would like a nurse to call you do complete this form. Ticking the box agreeing to a call back.

Our opening hours are Monday to Friday 9am - 4pm and 9am -1pm on Saturday. Out of hours you can leave a message and we will call you back when we next open.

Best wishes 


Breast Cancer Now Nurse

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Re: Acupuncture on lymphoedema risk arm

Just to add on to my previous message, that I understand mobility is also of enormous importance when it comes to avoiding and managing lymphoedema. (I would find it a very difficult decision to know what 'best' to do in your situation). 

I have also recently had shoulder mobility issues (I developed post surgery cording in my arm pit down to my ribs) and was advised by NHS physio to complete the exercises she recommended at least 3-5 times a day, for the rest of my life. She indicated that this is what she personally definitely would do in the same situation, following any surgery/lymphoedema diagnosis in that area. The exercises she gave me have made a HUGE difference and I, very fortunately, now have full mobility (fingers crossed it continues). Best of luck with this difficult decision, I hope the pain and lack of mobility turn out to be a temporary situation for you.  


Re: Acupuncture on lymphoedema risk arm

Hi Sue 

Sorry to hear that you are struggling with your shoulder. I understand that you are asking a nurse for advice however I thought you may possibly also like to hear from someone who has been diagnosed with lymphoedema and who has received a lot of advice from various professional sources in the UK. 

I had two breast cancer operations last year (the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes but I was spared chemo due to an Oncotype gene test) and, following radiation therapy in October, developed lymphoedema in my 'at risk' arm.

I am currently not showing any lymphoedema swelling (fingers crossed) entirely due to the invaluable and amazing support of a seemingly very well informed private lymphoedema practitioner (fully professionally qualified). She has advised me to completely avoid having any invasive 'treatment' (of any type) on any other part of my body and particularly never on my affected arm, unless there is a medical emergency of course. She even says that invasive treatments on any part of the body can also potentially trigger lymphoedema in that part of the body, now that the lymph flow is compromised due to the axillary lymph node clearance.

I discussed with her having my chest breast cancer Radiation therapy tattoos removed (via laser treatment, as suggested by my NHS breast cancer nurse) and she advised me that it was best to avoid anything invasive, that even very tiny wounds can cause lymph flow issues. I also recall her saying that acupuncture elsewhere in the body was best avoided too. (My NHS breast cancer nurse suggested acupuncture when I was struggling with insomnia, due to cancer hormone therapy, and I discussed this with my practitioner.) 

Sorry, I realise this is information you may not wish to receive but I thought I should pass this information on to you ... It is the first time I have ever contributed to any chat conversation in my whole life but I thought it might be of interest to you; a lymphodema diagnosis is life changing and obviously I assume it is something you are very much trying to avoid.  

Best wishes with your recovery. 

Sue H-S
Community Champion

Acupuncture on lymphoedema risk arm


Having trouble with my shoulder for quite some time and lost range of movement and much pain when doing specific things, like getting dressed. Have been referred to physio and he is suggesting acupuncture, despite being aware that I am a breast cancer survivor (5 years and counting 🙂 )

Please advise, whether the shoulder of my lymphoedema risk arm can be treated with acupuncture?

Thank you