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Cancer. 1998 Dec 15;83(12 Suppl American):2821-7.

Overview of treatment options and review of the current role and use of compression garments, intermittent pumps, and exercise in the management of lymphedema.

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Bridgeport Hospital, Connecticut, USA.



Lymphedema is a relatively frequent complication following the management of breast carcinoma. Numerous therapeutic interventions have been offered to treat this potentially disabling and disfiguring condition. Consensus has not been attained among oncologists, surgeons, psychiatrists, and physical therapists concerning the appropriate treatment of lymphedema.


This review provides an overview of those treatment regimens that have been used in the past and, in some instances, have gone on to provide the foundation for the most widely prescribed interventions currently employed for the management of upper extremity lymphedema following breast carcinoma treatment. The use of intermittent pneumatic compression pumps as a part of an integrated multidisciplinary treatment approach incorporating garments, exercises, and massage also is discussed.


A review of available literature suggests that a variety of traditional and commonly available techniques, when used appropriately in a multidisciplinary fashion, may lessen the cosmetic and physical impairments associated with acquired lymphedema. The role of surgery is unclear. Pharmacotherapies are a promising adjunct to manual and mechanical therapies.


The appropriate use of readily available treatment approaches may lessen the severity of acquired lymphedema following breast carcinoma therapy. A comprehensive therapeutic approach should be employed in the management of lymphedema, including attention to the functional, cosmetic, and emotional sequelae of this potentially disabling condition. To that end, a recommendation for a comprehensive treatment regimen is provided.

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