July 1, 2013 by Robert Wascher
Filed under A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, Acupuncture, Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Surgery, Breast Cancer Treatment, Breast-Conserving Surgery, Complications of Treatment, DCIS, Lymphedema, Lymphedema Treatment, Physical Therapy, axillary lymph node dissection, surgery
A new study finds that acupuncture may help to decrease lymphedema (arm swelling) in breast cancer patients.
ACUPUNCTURE MAY IMPROVE ARM LYMPHEDEMA
Arm lymphedema, or arm swelling, affects between 10 and 30 percent of all women undergoing treatment for breast cancer.Although relatively mild in most cases, lymphedema can be severe enough to interfere with personal and professional activities, and can be associated with significant symptoms such as limb heaviness, and abnormal sensations or discomfort in the affected arm.
Lymphedema is most commonly managed with elastic compression garments, pneumatic compression devices, soft tissue massage, and exercise (collectively, these therapies are often referred to as “decongestive therapy”). However, many lymphedema patients fail to respond to these standard therapies. When patients with lymphedema fail to respond to decongestive therapy, there are few, if any, other noninvasive therapies available that have been proven to be beneficial.
Now, a newly published clinical research study, which appears in the current issue of the journal Cancer, suggests that acupuncture might be useful as a treatment for arm lymphedema associated with breast cancer treatment.
In this small pilot study from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 33 breast cancer survivors with chronic arm lymphedema received twice weekly acupuncture treatments for a total of 4 weeks. Arm circumference was measured both before and after each acupuncture treatment.
At the conclusion of this study, 33 percent of the patients who completed this small pilot study experienced a 30 percent or greater reduction in the difference in circumference between their arms, while 55 percent of the study’s volunteers experienced a 20 percent or greater reduction in arm circumference difference.
This is an interesting pilot study, as chronic lymphedema remains such a challenge to manage and treat. Although the mechanism whereby acupuncture might reduce the severity of arm lymphedema remains to be elucidated, the findings of this pilot study are intriguing enough to merit a larger prospective, randomized research study to evaluate the impact of acupuncture on chronic arm lymphedema. Fortunately, the authors of this pilot study are now conducting just such a prospective, randomized clinical study!
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According to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty between September 2001 and December 2011 is more than 12 percent. A new website, Veterans in Healthcare, seeks to connect veterans with potential employers. If you are a veteran who works in the healthcare field, or if you are an employer who is looking for physicians, advanced practice professionals, nurses, corpsmen/medics, or other healthcare professionals, then please take a look at Veterans in Healthcare. As a retired veteran of the U.S. Army, I would also like to personally urge you to hire a veteran whenever possible.
Disclaimer: As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity
Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author
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