Lymphoedema is a problem frequently encountered by professionals working in palliative care. This article reviews the evidence on the magnitude of the problem of lymphoedema in the general population and provides evidence on specific high risk groups within it. Prevalence is a good indicator of the burden of disease for chronic problems such as lymphoedema, as it indicates the numbers of patients who require care. Incidence is indicative of changes in the causes of lymphoedema and the success of any prevention programmes. Both are important means of assessing the current level of need and the potential for the changing needs in managing this condition. Problems exist in all studies in relation to precise definitions of lymphoedema, inconsistent measures to assess differential diagnosis and poorly defined populations. While there is some evidence of high rates in relation to breast cancer therapy, the total burden of lymphoedema in the general population is largely unknown.