Objectives: The purpose of this study was to describe the use, as well as perceived effectiveness, of mainstream and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies in the treatment of lymphedema following breast or gynecological cancer. Further, the study assessed the relationship between the characteristics of lymphedema (including type, severity, stability, and duration), and the use of CAM and/or mainstream treatment.
Methods: This was a cross-sectional study using a convenience sample of women with lymphedema following breast and gynecological cancers. A self-administered questionnaire was sent to 247 potentially eligible women. Of those returned (50%), 23 were ineligible and 6 were excluded due to level of missing data.
Results: In the previous 12 months, the majority of women (90%) had used mainstream treatments to treat their lymphedema, with massage being the most commonly used (86%). One (1) in 2 women had used CAM to treat their lymphedema, and 98% of those using CAM were also using mainstream treatments. Over 27 types of CAM were reported, with use of a chi machine, vitamin E supplements, yoga, and meditation being the most commonly reported forms. The perceived effectiveness ratings (1-7 with 7=completely effective) of mainstream (mean±standard deviation (SD): 5.3±1.5) and CAM therapies (mean±SD: 5.2+1.6) were considered high.
Conclusions: These results demonstrate that mainstream and CAM treatment use is common, varied, and considered to be effective among women with lymphedema following breast or gynecological cancer. Furthermore, it highlights the immediate need for larger prospective studies assessing the inter-relationship between the use of mainstream and CAM therapies for treatment success.