Breast cancer

25 November 2013

Compression bandages work for lymphedema

Simple compression bandages are as effective as complicated massage treatments in treating the swollen arms of breast cancer patients.

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% and 30% 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.

Results of the study

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.

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Breast cancer expert

Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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