Study Compares Treatments for Arm Swelling Due to Breast Cancer

FRIDAY Nov. 22, 2013, 2013 -- Simple compression bandages are as effective as complicated massage treatments in treating the swollen arms of breast cancer patients, according to a new study.

This swelling of the arms -- called lymphedema -- is a complication of breast cancer treatment that can last a long time. It affects between 6 percent and 30 percent of patients, and can cause discomfort, reduced arm function, infection and emotional distress.

The six-week study included about 100 Canadian breast cancer patients with arm swelling.

The patients were divided into two groups. One group wore elastic compression sleeves and gloves for 12 hours a day. The other group received an hour of lymphatic drainage massage from trained therapists each weekday for four weeks, along with exercise and skin care.

The women in the massage group also wore compression bandages on their arms and hands the rest of the day and night. After the month of massage treatment, they wore elastic compression sleeves and gloves during the day, the same as the other group.

Regular assessments of the women's arm size and function, as well as quality of life, showed no significant difference in the effectiveness of the two treatment methods, according to the researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada.

The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

"In the future, patients who receive or can only afford elastic sleeves and gloves should be comforted knowing that their care has not been compromised," lead author Dr. Ian Dayes, an associate professor of oncology, said in a university news release.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about lymphedema after breast cancer treatment.

Posted: November 2013


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