Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in February 1998 and subsequently underwent a radical hysterectomy followed by cautionary radiation therapy. I now live with Lymphedema. I currently use a mechanical pump sleeve device; but it offers very little relief and I am still extremely limited in my mobility. Any recommendations on treating this lifelong affliction?
Lora Packel MS, PT, Coordinator of Cancer Therapy Services for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:
As you mentioned in your letter, lymphedema is a lifelong condition that can have a significant impact on mobility, body image and quality of life. Lymphedema can occur when lymph nodes are dissected, after radiation to a lymphatic bed, or after an infection. The standard of care for lymphedema treatment is Complete Decongestive Therapy. This is an intensive therapy program that includes lymphatic massage, bandaging, garment wear, exercise and skin care. Our program at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania does not use the pneumatic pump to treat lymphedema, as the research doesn't presently support its use in most occasions. There are some people who can benefit from its use, however they need to be evaluated and closely followed by a trained therapist.
Lymphedema therapy should be provided by physical therapists, occupational therapists or massage therapists that have undergone >50-100 hours of training. The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania has an extensive lymphedema program with six physical therapists that have undergone this training and specialize in oncology rehabilitation.