Long-term management of breast cancer-related lymphedema after intensive decongestive physiotherapy

Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2007 Mar;101(3):285-90. doi: 10.1007/s10549-006-9297-6. Epub 2006 Jul 7.


Background: Treatment of lymphedema is based on intensive decongestive physiotherapy followed by a long-term maintenance treatment. We analyzed the factors influencing lymphedema volume during maintenance treatment.

Method: Prospective cohort of 537 patients with secondary arm lymphedema were recruited in a single lymphology unit and followed for 12 months. Lymphedema volume was recorded prior to and at the end of intensive treatment, and at month 6 and month 12 follow-up visits. Multivariate models were fitted to analyze the respective role of the three components of complete decongestive therapy, i.e. manual lymph drainage, low stretch bandage, and elastic sleeve, on lymphedema volume during the 1-year maintenance phase therapy.

Results: Mean volume of lymphedema was 1,054 +/- 633 ml prior and 647 +/- 351 ml after intensive decongestive physiotherapy. During the 1-year maintenance phase therapy, the mean lymphedema volume slightly increased (84 ml-95% confidence interval [CI]: 56-113). Fifty-two percent of patients had their lymphedema volume increased above 10% from their value at the end of the intensive decongestive physiotherapy treatment phase. Non-compliance to low stretch bandage and elastic sleeve were risk factors for an increased lymphedema after 1-year of maintenance treatment (RR: 1.55 [95% CI: 1.3-1.76]; P < 0.0001 and RR: 1.61 (95% CI: 1.25-1.82); P = 0.002, respectively). Non-compliance to MLD was not a risk factor (RR: 0.99 [95% CI: 0.77-1.2]; P = 0.91).

Conclusion: During maintenance phase after intensive decongestive physiotherapy, compliance to the use of elastic sleeve and low stretch bandage should be required to stabilize lymphedema volume.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arm / pathology
  • Bandages
  • Breast Neoplasms / complications*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Cohort Studies
  • Drainage
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Lymph Node Excision
  • Lymphedema / etiology
  • Lymphedema / rehabilitation*
  • Lymphedema / therapy
  • Massage
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Prognosis
  • Self Care
  • Treatment Outcome