A study looking at reflexology to manage lymphoedema after breast cancer treatment

Cancer type:

Breast cancer





This study looked at reflexology to manage swelling of the arm following treatment for breast cancer. This swelling is called lymphoedema (pronounced lim-fo-dee-ma).

More about this trial

Lymphoedema can develop after some breast cancer treatments. Doctors are looking at ways to try to reduce the swelling and prevent the fluid building up again.

Reflexology is applying pressure and massage to your feet and hands. We know from research that reflexology can be safely used to try and relieve some side effects caused by breast cancer treatment. We also know from a small research study that reflexology may help to reduce lymphoedema in the arm after breast cancer treatment.

In this study, the researchers wanted to do a study with a larger number of people to see if they could get the same results.

The aims of this study were to find out

  • How well reflexology works for people with lymphoedema after treatment for breast cancer
  • How it affects their quality of life Open a glossary item

Summary of results

The study team found that reflexology was a useful treatment for lymphoedema after breast cancer surgery. It reduced swelling and pain in the affected arm and improved quality of life.

26 women took part in this small study. They all had a type of reflexology treatment called Reflexology Lymph Drainage (RLD) once a week for about a month.

The researchers measured the women’s arms before and after each session. In the final week of the study they didn’t have any reflexology treatment but they had their arms measured. The researchers also interviewed the women at the end of the study.

The main findings of the study were

  • The swelling in the affected arm went down in everyone who took part
  • The women with the most swelling had the largest reduction
  • The largest loss of fluid was after the 1st reflexology session with smaller losses at treatments 2, 3 and 4
  • Women said swelling and pain levels improved after treatment and reported their general well being was better

All the women who took part said the sessions were very helpful.

The study team concluded that Reflexology Lymph Drainage (RLD) helped this group of women. They say that this research could have benefits for other women who have lymphoedema after surgery for breast cancer. They hope to look at RLD reflexology in other studies in the future

We have based this summary on information from the research team. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team who did the research. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Judith Whatley
Philip Harris

Supported by

Cardiff Metropolitan University
NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer
Tenovus Cancer Care

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:


Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Harriet wanted to try new treatments

A picture of Harriet

“I was keen to go on a clinical trial. I wanted to try new cancer treatments and hopefully help future generations.”

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