Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 685–690 | Cite as

The short-term effects of low-level laser therapy in the management of breast-cancer-related lymphedema

  • Abuzer Dirican
  • Oya Andacoglu
  • Ronald Johnson
  • Kandace McGuire
  • Lisa Mager
  • Atilla SoranEmail author
Original Article



Breast-cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL) is a chronic disease, and currently there is no definitive treatment for it. There are some therapeutic interventions targeted to decrease the limb swelling and the associated problems. Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) has been used in the treatment of post-mastectomy lymphedema since 2007 in the US. The aim of this study is to review our short-term experience with LLLT in the treatment of BCRL.


Seventeen BCRL patients referred to our lymphedema program between 2007 and 2009 were enrolled in this study. All patients had experienced at least one conventional treatment modality such as complex physical therapy, manual lymphatic drainage, and/or pneumatic pump therapy. LLLT was added to patients' ongoing therapeutic regimen. All patients completed the full course of LLLT consisting of two cycles. The difference between sums of the circumferences of both affected and unaffected arms (ΔC), pain score, scar mobility, and range of motion were measured before and after first and second cycles of LLLT sequentially.


All patients were female with a median age of 51.8 (44–64) years. ΔC decreased 54% (15–85%) and 73% (33–100%), after the first and second cycles of LLLT, respectively. Fourteen out of seventeen experienced decreased pain with motion by an average of 40% (0–85%) and 62.7% (0–100%) after the first and second cycle of LLLT, respectively. Three patients had no improvement in pain after LLLT. Scar mobility increased in 13 (76.4%) and shoulder range of motion improved in 14 (82.3%) patients after LLLT. One patient developed cellulitis during LLLT.


Patients with BCRL received additional benefits from LLLT when used in conjunction with standard lymphedema treatment. These benefits include reduction in limb circumference, pain, increase in range of motion and scar mobility. Additionally, two cycles of LLLT were found to be superior to one in this study.


Low-level laser therapy Breast cancer Lymphedema 



The authors would like to thank Ryan Kelley, BA, for his efforts in the editing processes and maintaining the database for our research purposes.


  1. 1.
    Petrek JA, Heelan MC (2002) Incidence of breast carcinoma related lymphedema. Cancer 83:2776–2781CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Schrenk P, Rieger R, Shamiyeh A, Wayand W (2000) Morbidity following sentinal lymph node versus axillary lymph node dissection for patients with patients with breast carcinoma. Cancer 88:608–614PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Deutsch M, Flickinger JC (2003) Arm edema after lumpectomy and breast irradiation. Am J Clin Oncol 26:229–231PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Harris SR, Hugi MR, Olivotto IA, Levine M, Steering Committee for Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Care and Treatment of Breast Cancer (2001) Clinical practice guidelines for the care and treatment of breast cancer: 11. Lymphedema. CMAJ 164:191–199PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Donegan W, Spratt J (2002) Surgical techniques. In: Cancer of the breast, 5th edn Saunders, Philadelphia, pp 601–638Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Soran A, D'Angelo G, Begovic M, Ardic F, Harlak A, Samuel Wieand H, Vogel VG, Johnson RR (2006) Breast cancer related lymphedema—what are the significant predictors and how they affect the severity of lymphedema? Breast J 6:536–543CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Moseley AL, Carati CJ, Piller NB (2007) A systematic review of common conservative therapies for arm lymphedema secondary to breast cancer treatment. Ann Oncol 18:639–646PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Carati CJ, Anderson SN, Gannon BJ, Piller NB (2003) Treatment of postmastectomy lymphedema with low-level laser therapy: a double blind, placebo-controlled trial. Cancer 98:1114–1122PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Piller NB, Thelander A (1998) Treatment of chronic postmastectomy lymphedema with low level laser therapy: a 2.5 year follow-up. Lymphology 31:74–86PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Kaviani A, Fateh M, Nooraie RY, Alinagizadeh MR, Ataie-Fashtami L (2006) Low-level laser therapy in management of postmastectomy lymphedema. Lasers Med Sci 21:90–94PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Kozanoglu E, Basaran S, Paydas S, Sarpel T (2009) Efficacy of pneumatic compression and low-level laser therapy in the treatment of postmastectomy lymphedema: a randomized controlled trial. Clin Rehabil 23:117–124PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Lau RW, Cheing GL (2009) Managing postmastectomy lymphedema with low-level laser therapy. Photomed Laser Surg 27:763–769PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Williamson A, Hoggart B (2005) Pain: a review of the three commonly used pain rating scales. J Clin Nurs 14:798–804PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Hayes K, Walton JR, Szomor ZR, Murrell GA (2001) Reliability of five methods for assessing shoulder range of motion. Aust J Physiother 47:289–294PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Vercelli S, Ferriero G, Sartorio F, Stissi V, Franchignoni F (2009) How to assess postsurgical scars: a review of outcome measures. Disabil Rehabil 31:2055–2063PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Ekim A, Armagan O, Tascioglu F, Oner C, Colak M (2007) Effect of low level laser therapy in rheumatoid arthritis patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. Swiss Med Wkly 137:347–352PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Gur A, Karakoc M, Cevik R, Nas K, Sarac AJ, Karakoc M (2003) Efficacy of low power laser therapy and exercise on pain and functions in chronic low back pain. Lasers Surg Med 32:233–238PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Nouri K, Jimenez GP, Harrison-Balestra C, Elgart GW (2003) 585-nm pulsed dye laser in the treatment of surgical scars starting on the suture removal day. Dermatol Surg 29:65–73PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Ortu P, LaMuraglia GM, Roberts WG, Flotte TJ, Hasan T (1992) Photodynamic therapy of arteries. A novel approach for treatment of experimental intimal hyperplasia. Circulation 85:1189–1196PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Honmura A, Ishii A, Yanase M, Obata J, Haruki E (1993) Analgesic effect of Ga-Al-As diode laser irradiation on hyperalgesia in carrageenin-induced inflammation. Lasers Surg Med 13:463–469PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Piller NB, Thelander A (1996) Low level laser therapy: a cost effective treatment to reduce post mastectomy lymphedema. Lymphology 29:297–300Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Abuzer Dirican
    • 1
  • Oya Andacoglu
    • 1
  • Ronald Johnson
    • 1
  • Kandace McGuire
    • 1
  • Lisa Mager
    • 2
  • Atilla Soran
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Surgery, Division of Surgical OncologyMagee-Womens Hospital University of Pittsburgh Medical CenterPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Centers for Rehab Services—University of Pittsburgh Medical CenterPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations