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Lymphedema (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Management

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Despite the safety profile, the following special precautions should be considered when massage therapy is delivered to individuals with cancer:

  • Avoid directly massaging any open wounds, hematomas, or areas with skin breakdown.
  • Avoid directly massaging tumors that are apparent on the skin surface.
  • Avoid massaging areas with acute deep venous thrombosis.
  • Avoid directly massaging radiated soft tissue when the skin is sensitive.[22]

Additional integrative modalities have been under investigation for their role in the treatment of secondary lymphedema. Selenium has been studied in clinical trial NCT00188604, and acupuncture and moxibustion are being studied in clinical trial LJMC-AMWELL-SL as treatments for lymphedema.

Refractory Lymphedema and Complications

If lymphedema is massive and refractory to treatment, or has an onset several years after the primary surgery without obvious trauma, a search for other etiologies should be undertaken. Of particular importance is exclusion of the recurrence of tumor or the development of lymphangiosarcoma, which should be excluded with computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging. The complication of lymphangiosarcoma is classically seen in the postmastectomy lymphedematous arm (Stewart-Treves syndrome). The mean time between mastectomy and lymphangiosarcoma is 10.2 years, with a median survival of 1.3 years. Clinically, the lesions of lymphangiosarcoma may initially appear as blue-red or purple with a macular or papular shape in the skin. Multiple lesions are common; subcutaneous nodules may appear and should be carefully evaluated in the patient who has chronic lymphedema.[23]

References:

  1. Ridner SH: Pretreatment lymphedema education and identified educational resources in breast cancer patients. Patient Educ Couns 61 (1): 72-9, 2006.
  2. Markowski J, Wilcox JP, Helm PA: Lymphedema incidence after specific postmastectomy therapy. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 62 (9): 449-52, 1981.
  3. Petrek JA: Commentary: prospective trial of complete decongestive therapy for upper extremity lymphedema after breast cancer therapy. Cancer J 10 (1): 17-9, 2004.
  4. Schmitz KH: Balancing lymphedema risk: exercise versus deconditioning for breast cancer survivors. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 38 (1): 17-24, 2010.
  5. Schmitz KH, Ahmed RL, Troxel A, et al.: Weight lifting in women with breast-cancer-related lymphedema. N Engl J Med 361 (7): 664-73, 2009.
  6. Katz E, Dugan NL, Cohn JC, et al.: Weight lifting in patients with lower-extremity lymphedema secondary to cancer: a pilot and feasibility study. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 91 (7): 1070-6, 2010.
  7. Badger CM, Peacock JL, Mortimer PS: A randomized, controlled, parallel-group clinical trial comparing multilayer bandaging followed by hosiery versus hosiery alone in the treatment of patients with lymphedema of the limb. Cancer 88 (12): 2832-7, 2000.
  8. Vignes S, Porcher R, Champagne A, et al.: Predictive factors of response to intensive decongestive physiotherapy in upper limb lymphedema after breast cancer treatment: a cohort study. Breast Cancer Res Treat 98 (1): 1-6, 2006.
  9. Didem K, Ufuk YS, Serdar S, et al.: The comparison of two different physiotherapy methods in treatment of lymphedema after breast surgery. Breast Cancer Res Treat 93 (1): 49-54, 2005.
  10. Koul R, Dufan T, Russell C, et al.: Efficacy of complete decongestive therapy and manual lymphatic drainage on treatment-related lymphedema in breast cancer. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 67 (3): 841-6, 2007.
  11. Hinrichs CS, Gibbs JF, Driscoll D, et al.: The effectiveness of complete decongestive physiotherapy for the treatment of lymphedema following groin dissection for melanoma. J Surg Oncol 85 (4): 187-92, 2004.
  12. Szuba A, Achalu R, Rockson SG: Decongestive lymphatic therapy for patients with breast carcinoma-associated lymphedema. A randomized, prospective study of a role for adjunctive intermittent pneumatic compression. Cancer 95 (11): 2260-7, 2002.
  13. Dini D, Del Mastro L, Gozza A, et al.: The role of pneumatic compression in the treatment of postmastectomy lymphedema. A randomized phase III study. Ann Oncol 9 (2): 187-90, 1998.
  14. Loprinzi CL, Barton DL, Jatoi A, et al.: Symptom control trials: a 20-year experience. J Support Oncol 5 (3): 119-25, 128, 2007.
  15. Shaw C, Mortimer P, Judd PA: Randomized controlled trial comparing a low-fat diet with a weight-reduction diet in breast cancer-related lymphedema. Cancer 109 (10): 1949-56, 2007.
  16. Carati CJ, Anderson SN, Gannon BJ, et al.: Treatment of postmastectomy lymphedema with low-level laser therapy: a double blind, placebo-controlled trial. Cancer 98 (6): 1114-22, 2003.
  17. Chilvers AS, Kinmonth JB: Operations for lymphoedema of the lower limbs. A study of the results in 108 operations utilizing vascularized dermal flaps. J Cardiovasc Surg (Torino) 16 (2): 115-9, 1975 Mar-Apr.
  18. McNeely ML, Magee DJ, Lees AW, et al.: The addition of manual lymph drainage to compression therapy for breast cancer related lymphedema: a randomized controlled trial. Breast Cancer Res Treat 86 (2): 95-106, 2004.
  19. Williams AF, Vadgama A, Franks PJ, et al.: A randomized controlled crossover study of manual lymphatic drainage therapy in women with breast cancer-related lymphoedema. Eur J Cancer Care (Engl) 11 (4): 254-61, 2002.
  20. Andersen L, Højris I, Erlandsen M, et al.: Treatment of breast-cancer-related lymphedema with or without manual lymphatic drainage--a randomized study. Acta Oncol 39 (3): 399-405, 2000.
  21. Ernst E: Massage therapy for cancer palliation and supportive care: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials. Support Care Cancer 17 (4): 333-7, 2009.
  22. Gecsedi RA: Massage therapy for patients with cancer. Clin J Oncol Nurs 6 (1): 52-4, 2002 Jan-Feb.
  23. Tomita K, Yokogawa A, Oda Y, et al.: Lymphangiosarcoma in postmastectomy lymphedema (Stewart-Treves syndrome): ultrastructural and immunohistologic characteristics. J Surg Oncol 38 (4): 275-82, 1988.
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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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