Lymphoedema prevention practices

By Deborah Hurt, Lymphatic Therapist


Although common prevention practices taught to patients at risk for secondary lymphoedema are theory based and supported by patient reported lymphoedema “triggers”, there is little evidence to support many of these practices. A recent comprehensive literature review of prevention practices commonly taught concluded that only maintaining a normal bodyweight and participation in supervised exercise programmes have substantial supportive evidence. Thus, some have called for caution in our education and prevention practices given the potential impact this may have on quality of life.

Breast cancer survivor research supports that early identification and treatment of mild degrees of swelling potentially reverses early onset lymphoedema and that subtle changes in the 20-30cm segment of affected arms post treatment predicts early onset lymphoedema.

Prevention may be more probable if, 1) at risk individuals are taught that prevention is likely to be more obtainable if they eat well and have a normal BMI, and exercise; and 2) healthcare systems focus on early detection and rapid initial treatment.

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