Early physical therapy could be an effective intervention in the prevention of secondary lymphedema in women for at least 1 year after surgery for breast cancer involving dissection of auxiliary lymph nodes, say authors of an article published online January12 in BMJ.

The study was conducted in a university hospital in Madrid, Spain. Participants were 120 women who had breast surgery involving dissection of auxiliary lymph nodes between May 2005 and June 2007. The early physical therapy group was treated by a physical therapist with a program that included manual lymph drainage, massage of scar tissue, and progressive active and active-assisted shoulder exercises. This group also received an educational strategy. The control group received the educational strategy only. The main outcome measure was incidence of clinically significant secondary lymphedema (difference in arm circumference).

Of the 120 participants, 116 women completed the 1-year follow-up. Of these, 18 developed secondary lymphedema (16%), 14 in the control group (25%) and four in the intervention group (7%). The difference was significant. A survival analysis showed a significant difference, with secondary lymphedema being diagnosed four times earlier in the control group than in the intervention group.

Call any of the ECRC Physical Therapy offices regarding treatment of lymphedema.