Decongestive Exercise and Compression for Breast Cancer Related Lymphedema Management

Official Title

Decongestive Progressive Resistance Exercise With Advanced Compression for Breast Cancer Related Lymphedema Management (DREAM): A Pilot Randomized Control Trial


Women who have undergone breast cancer surgery may develop swelling of the arm on the side the breast cancer occurred. If the swelling becomes chronic it is called lymphedema. This study will examine the effect of a 12-week decongestive progressive resistance exercise with advanced compression on breast cancer related lymphedema. Our objective is to determine if breast cancer survivors are willing and able to wear advanced compression while exercising and if the combination will help to reduce their lymphedema. Twenty-four breast cancer survivors from Edmonton, Alberta will be enrolled in the one-year long study.

Trial Description

Primary Outcome:

  • Arm Lymphedema Volume
Secondary Outcome:
  • Bioimpedance Analysis
  • Upper body strength
  • Lower body strength
  • Shoulder range of motion
  • Lymphedema International Classification of Functioning (LYMPH-ICF)
  • Rand Short-form (SF): 36
  • Godin Leisure-time Questionnaire
  • Body composition
  • Body Image
  • Tissue Composition
Lymphedema is a swelling in the arm, chest wall and breast on the side of the breast cancer. Arm lymphedema develops as a result of breast cancer surgery and/ or radiation therapy. Compression therapy and exercise are commonly prescribed treatment to help reduce the arm swelling and to maintain the result. The exercise that is usually prescribed for lymphedema is called decongestive remedial exercise. It involves active, non-resisted movements that follow a specific order from proximal to distal and back proximally. The exercises start at the neck, move to the chest wall and then down the arm, and back. Two different types of compression garments have been proposed to help reduce swelling when women are exercising. One compression garment is made with a stiffer, less elastic type of material and is called a "flat-knit" garment. The other garment, the "Adjustable Compression Wrap" is a garment with an adjustable elastic strapping system that helps to reinforce the compression on the arm. Recent research suggests that these specialized garments enhance the muscle pump effect on lymph flow; however, no research has been conducted to test whether this actually results in improvements in arm lymphedema volume. Resistance exercise training helps to improve arm flexibility, strength, function, and quality of life in breast cancer survivors. Recent evidence has shown that breast cancer survivors with lymphedema, can safely perform resistance training (strength training), however, there is no impact (better or worse) on arm lymphedema volume. To date, no studies have been performed combining all potential therapeutic approaches for lymphedema management: resistance exercise, a therapeutic decongestive exercise sequence, and compression therapy. Women in the experimental arms of this study will wear a compression garment when performing progressive resistance exercise that follows the decongestive sequence. We will examine the effect of the combined intervention on arm lymphedema volume, function and quality of life.

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Canadian Cancer Society

These resources are provided in partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society