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Breast cancer related lymphedema is a prevalent chronic condition post cancer treatments, and is associated with high levels of physical disability for women who survive breast cancers.

Previous research has shown that low-level laser therapy is a safe and effective treatment for breast cancer related lymphedema to reduce limb volume and improve function.

About the research

Low-level laser therapy is a non-invasive form of light therapy.

The use of low intensity wave lengths can reduce inflammation, promote lymph vessel regeneration, improve lymphatic motility, and prevent tissue fibrosis.

Research findings on laser therapy for lymphedema treatment to date have been generally positive (in terms of clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction), and with no reports of adverse events. However there are few use of laser therapy in routine practice in New Zealand.

In order to address this gap, we propose to first instigate a small-scale clinical trial to see if we can incorporate low-level laser therapy into existing management of breast cancer-related lymphedema as provided by physiotherapists.

Findings from this trial will provide us valuable information to run a larger-scale trial with the ultimate aim of establishing the additional clinical effectiveness of laser therapy as an adjunct treatment in the management of breast cancer-related lymphedema.


This project is kindly supported by the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation.


The laser trial has successfully completed in July 2017, and now is in data analysis.

Future studies

Randomized Controlled Trial
Subject to the satisfactory completion of this clinical trial, a future larger-scale study will be carried out to assess the clinical effectiveness of low-level laser therapy as an adjunct treatment in the management of breast cancer-related lymphedema.


Baxter GD, Liu L, Petrich S, Chapple C, Anders J, Tumilty S: Low level laser therapy (photobiomodulation) in the management of breast cancer-related lymphedema: Protocol for a randomized controlled feasibility trial. Rehabilitation Oncology (in press).

Research team

Academic team

Professor David Baxter (Principal Investigator), School of Physiotherapy
Dr Steve Tumilty, School of Physiotherapy
Dr Cathy Chapple, School of Physiotherapy
Professor Juanita J Anders, Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Genetics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, United States
Jane Rankin, Lead for the Lymphoedema Network Northern Ireland
Dr Simone Petrich, Department of Surgical Sciences, Southern District Health Board

Clinical team

Ms Lesley Inglis, School of Physiotherapy Clinic
Ms Deb Handcork, Department of Physiotherapy, Southern District Health Board
Ms Olivia Shirley, Department of Physiotherapy, Southern District Health Board

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