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The Addition of Manual Lymph Drainage to Compression Therapy For Breast Cancer Related Lymphedema: a Randomized Controlled Trial


Purpose. The purpose of this investigation was to compare the reduction in arm lymphedema volume achieved from manual lymph drainage massage (MLD) in combination with multi-layered compression bandaging (CB) to that achieved by CB alone.

Methods and materials. Fifty women with lymphedema (mean age of 59 years ± 13 years) were randomly assigned to 4 weeks of combined MLD/CB or CB alone. The primary study endpoint was the reduction in arm lymphedema volume, which was determined by water displacement volumetry and measurement of circumference. Independent assessors, blinded to subject treatment assignment, performed the outcome measurements.

Results. Arm lymphedema volume decreased significantly after 4 weeks irrespective of treatment assignment (p < 0.001). Individuals with mild lymphedema receiving combined MLD/CB had a significantly larger percentage reduction in volume compared to individuals with mild lymphedema receiving CB alone, and compared to individuals with moderate or severe lymphedema receiving either treatment.

Conclusion. These findings indicate that CB, with or without MLD, is an effective intervention in reducing arm lymphedema volume. The findings suggest that CB on its own should be considered as a primary treatment option in reducing arm lymphedema volume. There may be an additional benefit from the application of MLD for women with mild lymphedema; however, this finding will need to be further examined in the research setting.

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Correspondence to Margaret L. McNeely.

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McNeely, M.L., Magee, D.J., Lees, A.W. et al. The Addition of Manual Lymph Drainage to Compression Therapy For Breast Cancer Related Lymphedema: a Randomized Controlled Trial. Breast Cancer Res Treat 86, 95–106 (2004).

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  • breast cancer
  • compression bandaging
  • compression therapy
  • lymphedema
  • manual lymph drainage
  • physical therapy