New Relief For Lymphoedema Patients
First Published: Investigator - July 2009
New developments in treatments are improving the quality of life for lymphoedema patients at Flinders Medical Centre.
Following the success of a recent clinical trial, which tested the impact of electrical stimulation of the lymphatic vessels in patients with secondary lymphoedema of the legs following cancer treatment, Flinders’ Lymphoedema Assessment Clinic is successfully using the Body Flow patient treatment program.
The Body Flow treatment program has been found to be effective in stimulating the lymphatic system for up to a week in patients with lymphoedema, easing symptoms and providing welcome relief.
Patients are also benefiting from new research recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine which suggests that controlled exercise is beneficial for breast cancer patients who subsequently develop lymphoedema.
The findings quash the long-held belief that exercise can exacerbate the symptoms of lymphoedema.
‘This and other studies have shown some significant benefits in terms of strength, range of movement and quality of life in women with lymphoedema who undertake weight lifting and weight-bearing exercise,’ Professor Neil Piller, director of the Lymphoedema Assessment Clinic said.
However, he stressed that it was important for patients to warm up and warm down before and after exercise, and not to carry heavy loads over a long distance.
‘It’s okay to carry a higher load for a short period of time, such as when lifting small weights, but patients must then ensure they warm down afterwards.’
He said properly preparing for exercise would offset and reduce any pressure around the lymphatics that built up during exercise due to increased blood flow.
Lymphoedema is a swelling of the limbs which is generally caused by damage to the lymphatic system following surgery and radiotherapy for cancer. When lymphoedema occurs, the remaining lymphatic system can have trouble clearing fluid and waste products from the cells in the tissues, eventually causing fluid accumulation and the development of uncomfortable swollen limbs.
In the Body Flow trial, conducted at Flinders Medical Centre, mild electrical stimulation was delivered to the smooth muscles of the walls of the lymphatic vessels and the abdominal areas in patients with lymphoedema to help improve lymph flow. Patients were then taught how to use their breathing and exercise and activity patterns to continue to help maintain lymph flow when at home.
‘The electrical stimulation of the lymph vessels can mimic what exercise and activity does, that is increase lymph flow thus improving tissue health,’ Professor Piller said.
Professor Piller said the latest research findings and the results of the electrical stimulation trial was good news for people with lymphoedema.
‘It allows us to offer patients new treatment strategies which will hopefully improve the quality of their day-to-day life.’