Preventing Early Postoperative Arm Swelling and Lymphedema Manifestation by Compression Sleeves After Axillary Lymph Node Interventions in Breast Cancer Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2017 Sep;54(3):346-354. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2017.04.014. Epub 2017 Aug 8.


Context: Breast cancer-related lymphedema (LE) remains one of the major long-term complications after surgery. Many reports showed the effectiveness of compression in breast cancer-related LE treatment, but randomized controlled trials evaluating compression garments for postoperative prevention are lacking.

Objectives: The aim of the study was to evaluate the potential role of light arm compression sleeves for reducing the incidence of early postoperative swelling and of breast cancer-related arm LE.

Methods: A total of 45 women were pre-operatively randomly assigned to a group with compression of circular-knit sleeves in compression class I (15-21 mm Hg) for daily wearing (compression group [CG]; n = 23) or to a control group without compression (no CG, n = 22). Both groups underwent a standardized physical exercise program. Arm volumes were measured before surgery and one, three, six, nine, and 12 months thereafter.

Results: At one month, postoperative swelling was reduced only in CG. After 12 months, the average change of excess volumes (edema) reached -67.6 mL in the CG vs. +114.5 mL in the no CG (P < 0.001). Significantly less edema was seen in the CG after three, six, nine, and 12 months. No significant difference between groups in health-related quality of life (measured by EORTC QLQ-C30) was observed.

Conclusion: Fifteen to 21 mm Hg compression sleeves in combination with physical activity may be a safe and efficient option to prevent postsurgical arm swelling and development of LE.

Keywords: BRCL; arm lymphedema; compression; physical exercises; prevention.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arm
  • Body Mass Index
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Compression Bandages*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Lymph Node Excision*
  • Lymphedema / epidemiology
  • Lymphedema / etiology*
  • Lymphedema / prevention & control*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Compliance
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control*
  • Pressure
  • Quality of Life
  • Treatment Outcome