Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy & Lymphedema

Non-randomised phase II trial of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in patients with chronic arm lymphoedema and tissue fibrosis after radiotherapy for early breast cancer

Lone Gothard a, Anthony Stanton b, Julie MacLaren c, David Lawrence d, Emma Hall d, Peter Mortimer c, Eileen Parkin e, Joyce Pritchard e, Jane Risdall f, Robert Sawyer f, Mary Woods c and John Yarnold , a

a Department of Radiotherapy, Royal Marsden NHS Trust, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5PT, UK b Division of Physiological Medicine (Dermatology), St George's Hospital Medical School, London, UK c Lymphoedema Services, Royal Marsden Hospital NHS Trust, Sutton, Surrey, UK d Clinical Trials and Statistics Unit, Institute of Cancer Research, Sutton, Surrey, UK e Radiotherapy Action Group Exposure, 24 Edgeborough Way, Bromley, Kent, UK f Institute of Naval Medicine, Alverstoke, Gosport, Hampshire, UK


Background: Radiation-induced arm lymphoedema is a common and distressing complication of curative treatment for early breast cancer.

Hyperbaric oxygen (HBO2) therapy promotes healing in bone rendered ischaemic by radiotherapy, and may help some soft-tissue injuries too, but is untested in arm lymphoedema.

Methods: Twenty-one eligible research volunteers with a minimum 30% increase in arm volume in the years after axillary/supraclavicular radiotherapy (axillary surgery in 18/21 cases) were treated with HBO2.

The volunteers breathed 100% oxygen at 2.4 ATA for 100 min in a multiplace hyperbaric chamber on 30 occasions over a period of 6 weeks. The volume of the ipsilateral limb, measured opto-electronically by a perometer and expressed as a percentage of contralateral limb volume, was selected as the primary endpoint.

A secondary endpoint was local lymph drainage expressed as fractional removal rate of radioisotopic tracer, measured using lymphoscintigraphy.

Results: Three out of 19 evaluable patients experienced >20% reduction in arm volume at 12 months.

Six out of 13 evaluable patients experienced a >25% improvement in 99Tc-nanocolloid clearance rate from the ipsilateral forearm measured by quantitative lymphoscintigraphy at 12 months.

Overall, there was a statistically significant, but clinically modest, reduction in ipsilateral arm volume at 12 months follow-up compared with baseline (P=0.005).

The mean percentage reduction in arm volume from baseline at 12 months was 7.51. Moderate or marked lessening of induration in the irradiated breast, pectoral fold and/or supraclavicular fossa was recorded clinically in 8/15 evaluable patients.

Twelve out of 19 evaluable patients volunteered that their arms felt softer, and six reported improvements in shoulder mobility at 12 months. No significant improvements were noted in patient self-assessments of quality of life.

Conclusion: Interpretation is limited by the absence of a control group. However, measurement of limb volume by perometry is reportedly reliable, and lymphoscintigraphy is assumed to be operator-independent.

Taking all data into account, there is sufficient evidence to justify a double-blind randomised controlled trial of hyperbaric oxygen in this group of patients.

Radiotherapy and Oncology Volume 70, Issue 3 , March 2004, Pages 217-224


Hyberbaric Chamber for Lymphedema: UK Research

Source: Artemis, Johns Hopkins newsletter April 2005

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