Master of Science in Education
Department or Program
Anton, Philip M
Breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL) is one of the complications resulting from treatment, particularly surgical removal of lymph nodes. It is defined as arm edema in breast cancer patients caused by interruption of flow in the axillary lymphatic system from surgery or radiation therapy, which results in the accumulation of fluid in the subcutaneous tissue of the arm, with a decrease in tissue distensibility around the joints and an increased weight of the extremity.
There are a number of therapies for the management of BCRL. Most common among them is decongestive lymphatic therapy, which includes exercise therapy. Exercise and movement plans are designed to strengthen and stimulate the muscles involved in lymph drainage.
This paper discusses the case of a woman diagnosed with breast cancer in whom lymphedema occurred after a mastectomy. The patient had 28, 12-week sessions of exercise therapy over nearly 11 years. The exercise therapy consisted of resistance and balance exercise targeting all major muscle groups including the shoulders, biceps and triceps, as well as aerobic and flexibility training.
Throughout participation in the structure exercise program, it was noted that exercise therapy did not have any adverse reaction on the symptoms of BCRL. Exercise therapy appeared to be safe and successful at improving strength in the upper extremity, without exacerbating the symptoms of lymphedema. In fact, there were signs that exercise therapy reduced the occurrence of lymphedema.