Lymphedema Treatment

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

DECEMBER 14, 2017

This has been on my mind as I have met with several women this week who are dealing with lymphedema. As you probably know, this can be a side effect of cancer surgery, and, once it happened, it never truly goes away. The goal is control, and that can involve a lot of PT and wrapping and pressure stockings or gloves and, sometimes, machines.

This is not an issue only for women post breast cancer, although they may be largest number of people involved. Anytime that surgery has removed lymph nodes and disrupted the normal flow of lymph fluid, this is potentially a problem. This is a good summary from LBBC:

Common Lymphedema Therapy Works Well on Long-Term Symptoms

Study shows complete decongestive therapy reduces arm swelling in people with lymphedema, regardless of whether they had lymphedema treatment in the past

: Erin Rowley, Writer and Content Coordinator

A study in The Breast Journal that looked at medical records shows that complete decongestive lessens arm swelling as well in people who have been treated for post-mastectomy lymphedema in the past as it does in people who’ve never been treated for it.


About 1 in 4 people with breast cancer who have a mastectomy get lymphedema. Lymphedema happens when surgery  or other trauma causes a change in the way the drains. After breast cancer surgery, this extra fluid often causes swelling of the hand, arm, breast or torso, on the same side the person had breast surgery. Lymphedema can cause discomfort, pain, and limited range of motion. Treatment seeks to lessen swelling. A common lymphedema treatment is complete decongestive therapy, also called or decongestive lymphatic therapy. It involves skincare to prevent infection, a gentle massage called manual lymphatic drainage, and compression bandages that put pressure on the affected area to keep lymph fluid moving. Breathing exercises are often recommended as well.

Past studies have shown complete decongestive therapy works well in people who have never been treated for lymphedema. The researchers on this study wanted to know if it works as well in people who have been treated for lymphedema before but are still experiencing lymphedema symptoms.

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