A new research study indicates bandaging is as effective as massage therapy in lymphedema care.

Lymphedema is a frequent side effect of the removal of lymph nodes, a procedure many breast cancer patients undergo.

McMaster University researchers set out to determine how simple compression bandages compared with what they called “a complicated daily lymphatic massage” in lymphedema treatment.

Lymphedema, or arm swelling after breast cancer surgery, “is a complication affecting six to 30 per cent of breast cancer patients and can result in discomfort, reduction of arm function, infection and emotional upset,” according to a press release. “Patients who are obese, have infection or additional surgery or radiation are more likely to have the swelling complication which can last indefinitely.”

The research team followed more than 100 women at six Canadian breast cancer treatment centers for a year. One group wore an elastic compression sleeve and glove garments on the arm for 12 waking hours a day.

The other group received an hour of lymphatic drainage massage from trained therapists each weekday for four weeks, along with exercise and skin care. Participants had compression bandages left on the arm and hand for the rest of the 24-hour day. After the month of treatment, these patients wore an elastic compression sleeve and glove for daytime wear, the same as the first group.

Regular measurements of arm volume, arm function and quality of life were taken, but no appreciative difference was found between the treatments.

The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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