Laser To Reduce Swelling of Lymphedema

Laser May Reduce Arm Swelling After Mastectomy

By Merritt McKinney

The zap of a low-level laser seems to relieve some cases of chronic swelling in the arm that often occurs after a mastectomy, new research suggests.

In a study, swelling diminished significantly in nearly a third of women who received laser treatment for the condition, known as lymphedema. "It's not a quick fix, but it does seem to help in some people and is not invasive," Dr. Colin J. Carati, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health.

"Lymphedema is a chronic and progressive condition for which there are few effective treatment options," explained Carati, who is at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.

Low-level laser treatment has proved effective in improving wound healing and scarring, "so we decided to give it a try in lymphedema," he explained.

In the trial, 61 women who had had a mastectomy were randomly assigned to receive one or two cycles of laser therapy or a sham therapy using a disabled laser.

Laser therapy did not have an immediate effect on symptoms, but 2 to 3 months later, women who had undergone two cycles of laser therapy were more likely to have experienced improvements than women given the sham treatment, the researchers report in the journal Cancer. Swelling was reduced in about 31 percent of women in the laser group.

Women who had undergone two cycles of laser therapy also had softer skin on their upper arm than women treated with the disabled laser. Hardening of the skin is an effect of lymphedema.

Despite the reduction in swelling, laser therapy did not seem to improve the range of movement in the arm, according to the report. Also, there was no significant difference between the groups in quality of life and the ability to perform daily activities.

Exactly how low-level lasers may relieve lymphedema remains a mystery, according to Carati. One possibility, he said, is that the laser has an effect at a cellular level, "possibly encouraging cells to work harder."

According to the Australian researcher, lasers are rarely used to treat lymphedema outside of Australia. The treatment is under consideration by the U.S. Food and Drug and Administration, however, he said.

The study was funded by an Australian government grant to Flinders University and RIAN Corporation, which makes the laser used in the study.


Cancer, September 15, 2003.

Thanks to Reuters Health via


Laser :

A device that generates electromagnetic radiation usually in the ultraviolet, visible or infrared regions of the light spectrum. Often used in surgeries, and invasive procedures to destroy cancerous cells, with limited bleeding.


LINK: LTU-904 LLLT Laser (FDA-cleared for Lymphedema)

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