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Physical therapists play integral role in prevention, risk reduction, and treatment of lymphedema
Date:10/15/2009

ALEXANDRIA, VA As breast cancer awareness month is observed during October, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is hoping to shine a spotlight on lymphedema, a chronic, debilitating and often irreversible side effect of cancer treatment. According to APTA, breast cancer patients who seek the services of a physical therapist can reduce their risk of lymphedema, as it can be prevented or more effectively managed if caught in its earliest stages and treated by a physical therapist. APTA is launching this effort as it kicks off National Physical Therapy Month in October to educate the public about the important role physical therapists and physical therapist assistants play in health care.

Breast cancer-related lymphedema, which can cause significant swelling of the upper and lower extremities due to the build-up of excess lymph fluid, is mostly caused by damage to the body's lymphatic system during treatment for cancer and can include limited movement, joint pain, and difficulty performing activities. Physical therapists, who are experts in restoring motion and mobility in people's lives, play an important role not only in treating the effects of lymphedema but also in reducing the risk of occurrence.

A study published in the journal Cancer (April 25, 2008) showed that pre-operative assessments of patients with breast cancer by physical therapists allow for earlier diagnosis and treatment of lymphedema. This includes programs that use infra-red technology to measure limb volume and regular post-operative follow-up to detect lymphedema.

The study further demonstrated that when lymphedema was detected early, the patient's condition was managed with a more conservative approach that included a light-grade compression sleeve and hand gauntlet that effectively decreased early swelling and possibly prevented the progression of lymphedema. Fitted by a physical therapist, these were prescribed for daily wear.

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Contact: Erin Wendel
erinwendel@apta.org
703-706-3397
American Physical Therapy Association
Source:Eurekalert

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