Breast cancer patients in fear of developing lymphedema —a potentially painful and disfiguring condition of swelling in the extremities—may be in for some relief.
Researchers found that when physical therapists identified lymphedema in its earliest stages, the condition could be treated effectively.
Lymphedema results from a disruption or blockage of the lymphatic system, which is responsible for transporting lymph fluid and cellular debris. During the five-year study, the team, which included researchers from Mason, the National Naval Medical Center, the University of Michigan-Flint, and the National Institutes of Health, followed breast cancer patients at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, from initial diagnosis through treatment and rehabilitation.
Using infrared technology, early stage lymphedema was identified in 43 of the 196 study participants and a light-grade compression bandage was prescribed to those affected. The treatment reduced swelling and alleviated the condition in all of the affected women.
“While more research is needed to confirm these findings, the take-home idea here is that detection depends on sensitive measures,” says Naomi Lynn Gerber, director of the Center for Study of Chronic Illness and Disability at Mason and a coauthor of the study.
Funded by the National Naval Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health, the study appeared in the April 2008 issue of the journal Cancer.