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Does Manual Lymphatic Drainage Add Value in Reducing Arm Volume in Patients With Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema?

Physical Therapy 2022 October 10
OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of fluoroscopy-guided manual lymph drainage (MLD) versus that of traditional and placebo MLD, when added to decongestive lymphatic therapy (DLT) for the treatment of breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL), on the suprafascial accumulation of lymphatic fluid and skin elasticity.

METHODS: In this multicenter, 3-arm, double-blind randomized controlled trial (EFforT-BCRL trial), 194 participants (mean age = 61 [SD = 10] years) with unilateral BCRL were recruited. All participants received standardized DLT (education, skin care, compression therapy, exercises) and were randomized to fluoroscopy-guided, traditional, or placebo MLD. Each day participants received 60 minutes of treatment during the 3-week intensive phase and 18 sessions of 30 minutes during the 6-month maintenance phase. Participants were instructed to wear a compression garment, to perform exercises, and to perform a self-MLD procedure once daily. This study comprises secondary analyses of the EFforT-BCRL trial. Outcomes were the amount of fluid accumulation in the suprafascial tissues (local tissue water, extracellular fluid, and thickness of the skin and subcutaneous tissue) and skin elasticity at the level of the arm and trunk. Measurements were performed at baseline; after intensive treatment; after 1, 3, and 6 months of maintenance treatment; and after 6 months of follow-up.

RESULTS: At the level of the arm, there was a significant improvement over time in the 3 groups for most of the outcomes. At the level of the trunk, no remarkable improvement was noted within the individual groups. No significant interaction effects (between-group differences) were present. Only skin elasticity at the level of the arm, evaluated through palpation, showed a significant interaction effect.

CONCLUSIONS: All 3 groups showed similar improvements in response to DLT, regardless of the type of MLD that was added. The effect of the addition of MLD to other components of DLT for reducing local tissue water and extracellular fluid or skin thickness and for improving skin elasticity and fibrosis in participants with chronic BCRL was limited.

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