Stanford study touts lymphedema pumps

Monday, March 31, 2003

PALO ALTO, Calif. - Long a victim of suspect effectiveness, lymphedema pumps shook hands with credibility in December when a Stanford University study touted them as “enhancing” the treatment of lymphedema in post-mastectomy patients.

“This is major,” said Vicki Jones, founder of the Women’s Health Boutique. “You had therapists that were saying the pumps would damage the person’s arm, but nobody knew for sure. We had specific markets where no one would touch pumps with a 10-foot pole. Doctors ran scared because they didn’t want to prescribe a product that could possibly damage the lymphatics.”

Dealers can use the Stanford study to help educate doctors and other referral sources to the benefits of lymphedema pumps, Jones said.

Specifically, the study investigated the safety and effectiveness of lymphedema pumps for the treatment of upper-extremity lymphedema in post-mastectomy patients when used in conjunction with compression bandaging and manual lymphatic massage.

The study by the Stanford Center for Lymphatic and Venous Disorders stated that: (1) When used together with compression garments and other therapy, lymphedema pumps can enhance a patient’s response to therapy.

(2) Pneumatic compression pumps can be used safely and effectively for the treatment of patients with breast carcinoma-associated lymphedema.

One caveat:

Numerous early studies tried to demonstrate the effectiveness of pumps as a solo therapy, but reports of complications and a lack of effectiveness dampens enthusiasm for the solo therapy. Indeed, lymphedema pumps alone won’t effectively treat a severe lymphedema - for obvious reasons a person can’t walk around with a pump all day - nor is it always necessary, said Elaine Burleson of the Memorial Herman Hospital Wound and Lymphedema Center in Houston.

“We’d love to do more pumps, but we want the medical doctor to feel like the woman needs it,” Burleson said. “I also don’t think women need to be given a high-end item just because they have mild lymphedema that may be well controlled other ways more easily.” HME