Physical Therapy Can Cut Risk of Post-Surgical Lymphedema

Condition is one of the most common complications of breast cancer surgery

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 13 (HealthDay News) -- The risk of secondary lymphedema in breast cancer surgery patients can be significantly reduced by the early introduction of post-surgical physical therapy, according to a study published online Jan. 12 in BMJ.

María Torres Lacomba, of Alcalá de Henares University in Madrid, Spain, and colleagues conducted a study of 120 women who underwent breast cancer surgery involving the dissection of axillary lymph nodes. All the participants were given education about the lymphatic system and on strategies to avoid injury and reduce the risk of infection. The intervention group also received a program of physical therapy, including manual lymph drainage, scar tissue massage and shoulder exercises.

In all, 116 women completed follow-up at one year, and 18 (16 percent) developed secondary lymphedema, including 14 (25 percent) in the control group and four (7 percent) in the intervention group, the researchers found.

"This result emphasizes the role of physiotherapy in the awareness, prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment of secondary lymphedema," the authors write. "Secondary lymphedema is a chronic condition, which has negative effects on the quality of life of patients. The increase in risk factors associated with secondary lymphedema, such as ageing populations and the growing prevalence of obesity, along with the gradual improvement in rates of survival from cancer, suggest that secondary lymphedema will remain a challenge."

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