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Acupuncture and Lymphedema

Posted 4/22/2013

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  Lymphedema can be an intractable problem. Although most women with breast cancer do not ever develop this problem (thankfully), those who do quickly find that it never can be cured. Yes, there are treatments, and, yes, it waxes and wanes, but it is a chronic problem. It is pretty impossible to get accurate statistics on the incidence of lymphedema. Depending on who you ask, the number seems to fluctuate wildly, and many surgeons insist that "this never happens to my patients." This, of course, is just not true, and the development of lymphedema is not a negative reflection on the surgeon's skills.

  The National Lymphedema Foundation ( is an excellent source of information. Do be aware that they are quite conservative in their recommendations, and not everyone agrees with some of their dictates. For example, recent studies have suggested that air travel is not a culprit in the development of lymphedema, and that exercise is also not a problem. Since it seems to me that no one really knows for sure, this becomes another situation where you have to make your own decisions and best choices. I, for one, do not wear a sleeve when I travel (even on those 15 plus hour international flights), and have not ever had a problem. If one day I get off a plane with a swollen arm, I will feel like a dope, but it hasn't happened yet.

  This is a hopeful article from Cancer about the possible value of acupuncture on the treatment of lymphedema. Here is the start and a link to read more:

Acupuncture: Could an Ancient Therapy Be the Latest Advance

in the Treatment of Lymphedema?




Brian D. Lawenda, MD1,2 and Frank A. Vicini, MD3





The Background





One of the most common complications of breast cancer treatment is lymphedema, an incurable condition that affects the lives of approximately 800,000 US breast cancer survivors.1,2 If not detected early and treated, clinical signs and symptoms can develop from the accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the tissues of the affected arm and remaining breast quadrant.


Although established therapies for lymphedema management exist, there remains a need for other modalities that can further improve outcomes. Preliminary reports suggest that acupuncture may be a promising adjunctive therapeutic option.










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