Exposure to Flying and LE

Compression prophylaxis may increase the potential for flight-associated lymphoedema after breast cancer treatment

P. H. Graham


This study aimed to assess exposure to flying in breast cancer survivors and assess the relationship of flying to lymphoedema. A total of 293 relapse-free breast cancer survivors with known pathology and treatment details and prospectively measured arm circumferences were surveyed for their flight exposure and precautions history. Of these, 287 responded, with a mean follow-up of 31.6 (4-111) months.

A total of 50.5% had flown, and of these, 27% had travelled overseas. The mean number of flights was 5.3 (1-100); 24% had taken lymphoedema precautions, 90% of which utilized compression techniques. There was no significant difference in lymphoedema rates for fliers (11.2%) and non-fliers (8.3%). No woman reported permanent (new or increased) swelling after flying. Of the nine reporting temporary swelling, six reported 1-3 concurrent potential risk factors. On regression modelling for both measured and self-reported swelling endpoints the use of precautions (OR 5.6 for lymphoedema and 3.7 for flight-related temporary swelling) were statistically significant.

For patient-reported swelling, the number of positive nodes (OR 1.2) and the number of overseas flights (OR 1.4) was also significant, whereas for clinical lymphoedema age (OR 1.07) was significant.

We conclude that domestic air travel (<4.5 h) is low risk and that compression devices are possibly counterproductive.

The Breast p 66-71, Volume 11, Number 1, February 2002 Copyright 2001 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.

Ann's NOTE: I had the opportunity in March, 2002 to speak with Saskia Thiesens, RN, head of the National Lymphedema Network. She said that this study relates to women who have NEVER had sleeves, nor LE.

The study suggests that getting a sleeve just to fly is a mistake. A woman/man with LE needs to use the sleeve for several weeks before flying to make sure it is fit correctly and does not cause incorrect pressure.

I have had many sleeves since I first developed LE in February 1993. Some fit well, some did not. The same woman measured me for most of them. The same company made most of them. And still they varied in fit.

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