Acupuncture Continuing Education

Acupuncture treats Breast Cancer Lymphedema

Recent Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center research demonstrates that acupuncture significantly reduces lymphoedema related arm swelling in women after breast cancer surgery. Lymphoedema is a when there is fluid retention and tissue swelling in the body due to disorders of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system controls the return of interstitial fluid to the bloodstream. After breast cancer surgery, the lymphatic system can be damaged by lymph node surgery or radiation therapy. Symptoms may appear quickly or take several months or years to become apparent. Swelling of the arms and sides of the body is most common after lymphatic system damage due to breast cancer procedures.

The researchers at Sloan-Kettering in New York note that existing conventional treatments for lymphoedema are only “marginally beneficial, rarely reducing arm swelling in any meaningful way.” The new study concludes that acupuncture is safe and that some of the women in the study showed a 30 percent or better reduction of lymphoedema related arm swelling.

Acupuncture Results
In this study, lymphoedema was diagnosed when the affected arm was greater than 2cm in circumference than the unaffected arm. Participants received acupuncture at a rate of 2 times per week for a total of four weeks. Results were tabulated after a six month follow-up. No serious events were reported and the study concludes that “acupuncture appears safe and may reduce lymphoedema associated with breast cancer surgery.”


Acupunct Med. doi:10.1136/aim.2011.004069. A safety and efficacy pilot study of acupuncture for the treatment of chronic lymphedema. Barrie R Cassileth, Kimberly J Van Zee, Yi Chan, Marci I Coleton, Clifford A Hudis, Sara Cohen, James Lozada, Andrew J Vickers.

Author Affiliations:
Integrative Medicine Service, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York.
Department of Surgery, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York.
Breast Cancer Medicine Service, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York.
Integrative Medicine Service and Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York.