Weight Management

Weight Management

PEP Topic 

Weight management involves the use of programmatic or informal strategies in which patients implement behaviors to lose weight or maintain an appropriate body weight. This is generally accomplished through diet and activity. Weight management has been evaluated in patients with cancer related to prevention and management of lymphedema.

Likely to Be Effective

Guideline/Expert Opinion

Lymphoedema Framework. (2006). International consensus: Best practice for the management of lymphoedema. London, UK: Medical Education Partnership. Retrieved from http://www.woundsinternational.com/pdf/content_175.pdf


Purpose & Patient Population:


Type of Resource/Evidence-Based Process:

PROCESS OF DEVELOPMENT: Study utilized previous Cochrane Systematic reviews along with current references to a United Kingdom national consensus on standards of practice for people at-risk for, or who have, lymphedema (LE)

Evidence weighed using the following classification:
  • A = Clear research evidence
  • B = Limited supporting research evidence
  • C = Experienced common sense judgment.

Guidelines & Recommendations:

Recommended for Practice
Complete decongestive therapy
  • Patients with LE should receive a coordinated package of care appropriate to their needs (B).
Compression bandaging
  • Multilayer inelastic lymphedema bandaging (B)
  • Compression garments (C)
Management of infection: Cellulitis/erysipelas
  • Criteria for hospitalization
    • Signs of septicemia (e.g., high fever, hypotension, tachycardia, confusion, vomiting).
    • Continuing or deteriorating systemic signs with or without deteriorating local signs after 48 hours of antibiotic therapy.
    • Unresolved or deteriorating local signs with or without systemic signs after first- and second-line oral antibiotics.
    • Close medical follow-up
Exclude other causes of systemic infection, DVT, or dermatologic conditions such as eczema and contact dermatitis.
  • Before starting antibiotics
    • Swab any exudates, if present
    • Mark extent of rash and date edge
    • Note any painful or swollen regional lymph nodes
    • Obtain labs for ESR, CRP, WBC, and blood cultures.
Begin antibiotics as soon as possible (recommended for practice).
During bed rest, elevate limb, administer appropriate analgesia, and increase fluid intake.
Avoid simple lymphatic drainage (SLD) and manual lymphatic drainage (MLD). If tolerated, continue compression at a reduced level or switch from compression garments to MLLB.
Avoid long periods without compression.
Likely to be Effective
Manual lymphatic drainage (C) 
Prevention of infection: skin care 
  • Good skin care regimens should be implemented by patients and caregivers in the management of LE (B).
  • Use neutral pH soaps to avoid drying.
  • Apply emollients. 
  • Keep skin folds clean and dry.
  • Inspect skin for cuts, scrapes, abrasions, and insect bites.
  • Avoid scented products.
Benefits Balanced With Harm                                      


  • Exercise/movement/elevation (C)
  • Breathing exercises (C) 

Prophylactic antibiotics: prevention of infection 

  • Patients are advised to travel with a two-week supply of antibiotics if they have a history of lymphedema. 
Effectiveness not Established

Intermittent pneumatic compression (C)

Simple lymphatic drainage (SLD)

Surgery (limited evidence, carefully selected patients may benefit, more research needed)

  • Surgical reduction
  • Bypass of lymphatic obstruction
  • Liposuction/lipectomy
Expert Opinion

Patient education 

  • People at risk of lymphedema should be identified early during routine assessment, monitored, and taught self-care (C). 
  • Patients and caregivers should be offered information about LE and its management.
  • Take good care of skin and nails.
  • Maintain optimal body weight (B).
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Avoid tight clothing, watches, and jewelry.
  • Avoid extremes in temperature.
  • Use sunscreen and insect repellent.
  • Wear compression garments if prescribed.
  • Undertake exercise and diaphragmatic breathing exercises.
  • Wear comfortable, supportive shoes.
  • Risk factors for upper extremity lymphedema 
  • Surgery of breast with axillary node dissection
  • Scar formation, radiodermatitis from postoperative radiotherapy
  • Radiotherapy to breast
  • Drainage or wound complications
  • Cording or seroma formation
  • Obesity
  • Congenital predisposition
  • Trauma to affected extremity (venipuncture, injection, BP)
  • Taxane chemotherapy
  • Insertion of a pacemaker
  • AV fistula for dialysis
  • Living in or visiting a lymphatic filariasis endemic area
  • Risk factors for lower extremity lymphedema
  • Inguinal node dissection
  • Postoperative pelvic radiotherapy
  • Recurrent soft-tissue infection
  • Obesity
  • Vein stripping or vein harvesting
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Intrapelvic or intra-abdominal tumor
  • Thrombophlebitis
  • Poor nutritional status
  • Chronic skin disorders or inflammation
  • Any unresolved asymmetric edema
  • Concurrent illness
  • Immobilization or prolonged limb dependency
  • Living in or visiting a lymphatic filariasis endemic area
  • Accurate assessment including staging (C)
    • Measurement  of LE
    • Assessment of skin
    • Assessment of vascular integrity
  • Patients with LE should receive psychological screening to identify those who require help to cope with the condition and those who require specialist intervention (C).


Research Evidence Summaries

Shaw, C., Mortimer, P., & Judd, P.A. (2007). Randomized controlled trial comparing a low-fat diet with a weight-reduction diet in breast cancer-related lymphedema. Cancer, 109(10), 1949–1956.

doi: 10.1002/cncr.22638

Study Purpose:

To evaluate whether using dietary interventions could be beneficial in the treament of arm lymphedema in patients who have breast cancer-related lymphedema

Sample Characteristics:

  • The study sample (N =64) was comprised of female patients.
  • Patients were stratified by volume and treatment and then randomized to one of three groups.
    • Weight reduction with decreased calories to 1,000–1,200 a day
    • Low-fat diet without change in calories, reducing dietary fat to 20% of total calories
    • Control group without change from intake
  • Fifty-one patients completed the study.

Study Design:

The study used a randomized controlled trial design with two interventions and one control group.

Measurement Instruments/Methods:

  • The volume measurements were performed by lymphedema practitioners who were blinded to the intervention using a Perometer and a volume equation using circumference.
  • Arm circumference was measured every 4 cm.
  • Height and weight were measured.
  • Skin fold thickness was measured at four sites.


Results showed significant reduction in body weight (p = 0.006), body mass index (p = 0.008), and skin fold thickness measured at four sites (p = 0.044) in the weight-reduction and low-fat groups but not in the control group. There was a reduction in excessive arm volume over the 24 weeks but no significant difference between groups. There was a significant correlation between weight loss and a reduction in excess am volume irrespective of the dietary group (p < 0.002). Weight loss for the control, weight-reduction, and low-fat groups were 60%, 95%, and 76%, respectively. Weight reduction appears to be an effective means of assisting in the reduction of arm volume during the treatment of the lymphedema arm.



A good study that identifies an important risk factor and intervention.


  • The study was ambitious and could have benefited from a simple weight-controlled study.
  • Patients used compression sleeves and bandages during the intervention; nevertheless, the patients were distributed throughout the groups.
  • Patients had poor adherence to diets.
  • Some patients who were instructed not to lose weight did.
  • The calorie intake of 1,000–1,200 per day is low for anyone.