Some massage therapists earn specialty certification as lymphedema therapists, and then provide lymphatic massage and other care to lymphedema patients.

Millions of American cancer survivors experience chronic discomfort as a result of lymphedema, a common side effect of surgery and radiation therapy in which affected areas swell due to protein-rich fluid buildup, according to a press release from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where a literature review was recently conducted on lymphedema patients’ care.

The researcher, Jane Armer, professor in the university’s Sinclair School of Nursing and director of nursing research at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, said emphasizing patients’ quality of life rather than focusing solely on reducing swelling is critical to effectively managing the condition.

Armer said many insurance providers and health care professionals assess whether lymphedema patients need treatment based solely on how swollen their limbs are. However, several studies have shown that the volume of fluid doesn’t necessarily correspond with patients’ discomfort.

“Practitioners need to treat the swelling while considering patients’ distress. We don’t want to burden them with unnecessary or ineffective treatments,” Armer said. “Health care providers should focus on managing symptoms and choose carefully among various treatments to provide individualized care plans that comfort patients, which may require modifying existing protocols.”

The article, “Palliative Care for Cancer-Related Lymphedema: A Systematic Review,” was published recently in the Journal of Palliative Medicine, published by Mary Ann Liebert Inc. Publishers.

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