OBJECTIVE: We aimed to investigate the effects of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) in managing postmastectomy lymphedema.
BACKGROUND DATA: Postmastectomy lymphedema (PML) is a common complication of breast cancer treatment that causes various symptoms, functional impairment, or even psychosocial morbidity. A prospective, single-blinded, controlled clinical trial was conducted to examine the effectiveness of LLLT on managing PML.
METHODS: Twenty-one women suffering from unilateral PML were randomly allocated to receive either 12 sessions of LLLT in 4 wk (the laser group) or no laser irradiation (the control group). Volumetry and tonometry were used to monitor arm volume and tissue resistance; the Disabilities of Arm, Shoulder, and Hand (DASH) questionnaire was used for measuring subjective symptoms. Outcome measures were assessed before and after the treatment period and at the 4 wk follow-up.
RESULTS: Reduction in arm volume and increase in tissue softening was found in the laser group only. At the follow-up session, significant between-group differences (all p < 0.05) were found in arm volume and tissue resistance at the anterior torso and forearm region. The laser group had a 16% reduction in the arm volume at the end of the treatment period, that dropped to 28% in the follow-up. Moreover, the laser group demonstrated a cumulative increase from 15% to 33% in the tonometry readings over the forearm and anterior torso. The DASH score of the laser group showed progressive improvement over time.
CONCLUSION: LLLT was effective in the management of PML, and the effects were maintained to the 4 wk follow-up.
Ten women with unilateral arm lymphedema after axillary clearance (radical mastectomy) and radiotherapy for breast cancer received 16 treatment sessions with Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) over 10 weeks and seven patients were followed for 36 months. The effect of LLLT was monitored by arm circumference, plethysmography, tonometry, bioimpedance and a questionnaire dealing with subjective symptoms. After treatment, edema volume (both extracellular and intracellular) was decreased, the tissue (except for the upper arm) progressively softened or approached a normal texture, and the patients reported improvement in aches/pains, tightness, heaviness, cramps, pins/needles, and mobility of the arm. Skin integrity was also improved and the index for risk of infection decreased. Follow-up assessment at 1, 3, 6, and 30-36 months showed varying trends although at 30-36 months most subjective parameters and bioimpedance derived data on ECF and ICF tended to return toward pre-treatment levels. Arm circumference continued to show overall improvement, however, with a volume reduction of the affected arm reaching 29%. Tonometry also showed maintenance of near normal values for the involved forearm and anterior and posterior chest; however, the upper arm showed progressive induration. The data suggest that laser treatment, at least initially, improved most objective and subjective parameters of arm lymphedema.