About 1 in 5 people (20%) will have lymphoedema of the arm after breast cancer treatment (surgery to remove lymph nodes or radiotherapy to the lymph nodes in the armpit). The effects of treatment, block the normal fluid drainage channels of the lymphatic system, allowing fluid called lymph to collect in an area, resulting in localized swelling.
Treatment for lymphoedema aims to reduce swelling and prevent the fluid building up again. With early diagnosis and intervention the condition can be well controlled through skincare to prevent infection, specialized massage and compression. The most common treatments for lymphoedema are a combination of manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), lymphatic exercise, daytime and night-time compression garments/bandaging (multi-layer lymphoedema bandaging) and the use of intermittent sequential gradient pumps. Complex decongestive physiotherapy (CDT) is a guided treatment programme combining lymphatic massage, skin care, and compressive garments.
All these are very specialist treatments. Ask your breast care nurse, surgeon or GP to refer you to a lymphoedema specialist. They will measure your arm and assess you properly. Wearing a badly fitting elastic sleeve can make the swelling worse. The British Lymphology Society have a register of lymphoedema practitioners or visit http://www.lymphoedema.org for further information.
See the list of external links below to gain access to some alternative forms of pressure garments and review the latest evidence on the various types of compression therapies available to you.
External Links on this Topic
Conservative and dietary interventions for cancer-related lymphedema: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
McNeely ML, Peddle CJ, Yurick JL, Dayes IS, Mackey JR.
Cancer. 2011 Mar 15;117(6):1136-48. doi: 10.1002/cncr.25513. Epub 2010 Nov 8. Review.
Compression garments versus compression bandaging in decongestive lymphatic therapy for breast cancer-related lymphedema: a randomized controlled trial.
King M, Deveaux A, White H, Rayson D.
Support Care Cancer. 2012 May;20(5):1031-6. doi: 10.1007/s00520-011-1178-9. Epub 2011 May 8.
A prospective randomised study of alginate-drenched low stretch bandages as an alternative to conventional lymphologic compression bandaging.
Kasseroller RG, Brenner E.
Support Care Cancer. 2010 Mar;18(3):343-50. doi: 10.1007/s00520-009-0658-7. Epub 2009 May 31.
Could Kinesio tape replace the bandage in decongestive lymphatic therapy for breast-cancer-related lymphedema? A pilot study.
Tsai HJ, Hung HC, Yang JL, Huang CS, Tsauo JY.
Support Care Cancer. 2009 Nov;17(11):1353-60. doi: 10.1007/s00520-009-0592-8. Epub 2009 Feb 8.
Intermittent pneumatic compression therapy: a systematic review.
Feldman JL, Stout NL, Wanchai A, Stewart BR, Cormier JN, Armer JM.
Lymphology. 2012 Mar;45(1):13-25.