A Web- and Mobile-Based Intervention for Women Treated for Breast Cancer to Manage Chronic Pain and Symptoms Related to Lymphedema: Results of a Randomized Clinical Trial

Mei Rosemary Fu, Deborah Axelrod, Amber A. Guth, Joan Scagliola, Kavita Rampertaap, Nardin El-Shammaa, Jeanna M. Qiu, Melissa L. McTernan, Laura Frye, Christopher S. Park, Gary Yu, Charles Tilley, Yao Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The-Optimal-Lymph-Flow (TOLF) is a patient-centered, web- and mobile-based mHealth system that delivers safe, easy, and feasible digital therapy of lymphatic exercises and limb mobility exercises. Objective: The purpose of this randomized clinical trial (RCT) was to evaluate the effectiveness of the web- and mobile-based TOLF system for managing chronic pain and symptoms related to lymphedema. The primary outcome includes pain reduction, and the secondary outcomes focus on symptom relief, limb volume difference measured by infrared perometer, BMI, and quality of life (QOL) related to pain. We hypothesized that participants in the intervention group would have improved pain and symptom experiences, limb volume difference, BMI, and QOL. Methods: A parallel RCT with a control–experimental, pre- and posttest, and repeated-measures design were used. A total of 120 patients were recruited face-to-face at the point of care during clinical visits. Patients were randomized according to pain in a 1:1 ratio into either the arm precaution (AP) control group to improve limb mobility and arm protection or The-Optimal-Lymph flow (TOLF) intervention group to promote lymph flow and limb mobility. Trial outcomes were evaluated at baseline and at week 12 after the intervention. Descriptive statistics, Fisher exact tests, Wilcoxon rank-sum tests, t test, and generalized linear mixed effects models were performed for data analysis. Results: At the study endpoint of 12 weeks, significantly fewer patients in the TOLF intervention group compared with the AP control group reported chronic pain (45% [27/60] vs 70% [42/60]; odds ratio [OR] 0.39, 95% CI 0.17-0.90; P=.02). Patients who received the TOLF intervention were significantly more likely to achieve a complete reduction in pain (50% [23/46] vs 22% [11/51]; OR 3.56, 95% CI 1.39-9.76; P=.005) and soreness (43% [21/49] vs 22% [11/51]; OR 2.60, 95% CI 1.03-6.81; P=.03). Significantly lower median severity scores were found in the TOLF group for chronic pain (MedTOLF=0, IQR 0-1 vs MedAP=1, IQR 0-2; P=.02) and general bodily pain (MedTOLF=1, IQR=0-1.5 vs MedAP=1, IQR 1-3; P=.04). Compared with the AP control group, significantly fewer patients in the TOLF group reported arm/hand swelling (P=.04), heaviness (P=.03), redness (P=.03), and limited movement in shoulder (P=.02) and arm (P=.03). No significant differences between the TOLF and AP groups were found in complete reduction of aching (P=.12) and tenderness (P=.65), mean numbers of lymphedema symptom reported (P=.11), ≥5% limb volume differences (P=.48), and BMI (P=.12). Conclusions: The TOLF intervention had significant benefits for breast cancer survivors to manage chronic pain, soreness, general bodily pain, arm/hand swelling, heaviness, and impaired limb mobility. The intervention resulted in a 13% reduction (from 40% [24/60] to 27% [16/60]) in proportions of patients who took pain medications compared with the AP control group, which had a 5% increase (from 40% [24/60] to 45% [27/60]). A 12% reduction (from 27% [16/60] to 15% [9/60]) in proportions of patients with ≥5% limb volume differences was found in the TOLF intervention, while a 5% increase in the AP control group (from 40% [24/60] to 45% [27/60]) was found. In conclusion, the TOLF intervention can be a better choice for breast cancer survivors to reduce chronic pain and limb volume.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere29485
JournalJMIR Cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022


  • Breast cancer
  • Health behavior
  • Lymphatic exercises
  • Lymphedema
  • Pain
  • Symptoms
  • mHealth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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