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Latest Research: Latest findings and research on what works in Alternative Medicine

Naturopathic Medicine

New Treatment for Arm Swelling in Breast Cancer Patients

Every year 200,000 women in the United States develop breast cancer and conservative estimates say that 15-20% of them will develop arm edema or swelling. In a new Stanford study ten women between ages 54 and 78 were treated with the Flexitouch device to reduce arm edema. The standard long term therapy for edema is self-massage to increase lymphatic drainage. Usually the benefits and effectiveness of self-massage decrease over time. This is understandable; the repetitive, time-consuming task of daily self-massage may easily become boring. Once established, however, arm swelling tends to progress. The swelling initially affects the appearance of the skin and eventually limits the use of the arms. So what begins as an embarrassing side effect becomes physically uncomfortable and then debilitating. There is also a higher incidence of soft tissue infection with long term edema.

In the Stanford study, the patients were treated with either Flexitouch or massage for one hour daily over a period of two weeks. The Flexitouch patients reported that the device was easy to use and there was an overall decrease in the patients' arm size, unlike in the self-massage group. Also the Flexitouch patients' average weight decreased. This is a significant self-esteem issue for women in general and breast cancer survivors in particular.

The Flexitouch device is actually a flexible, fabric garment divided into inflatable sections that fit over the trunk and one or both arms. The inflatable chambers mimic correctly performed massage by rhythmically applying mild pressure to each section. Using Flexitouch to treat edema provides reliable, effective lymphatic drainage massage. The only downside is the price-it costs $10,800 for the single arm garment and $12,400 for the bilateral garment. Considering the physical and self esteem benefits of effective treatment the retail cost of the Flexitouch may be worth it.

Hseih LL, Kuo, CH, Yen AM, Chien KL, and Chen TH. "Treatment of low back pain by acupressure and physical therapy: Randomised Controlled Trial. British Medical Journal, March 25;332 (7543): 680-681.

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