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Keywords:

  • breast cancer;
  • lymphedema;
  • early detection;
  • physical therapy;
  • early intervention;
  • compression;
  • optoelectronic volumetry;
  • subclinical lymphedema

Abstract

BACKGROUND

The incidence of breast cancer (BC)-related lymphedema (LE) ranges from 7% to 47%. Successful management of LE relies on early diagnosis using sensitive measurement techniques. In the current study, the authors demonstrated the effectiveness of a surveillance program that included preoperative limb volume measurement and interval postoperative follow-up to detect and treat subclinical LE.

METHODS

LE was identified in 43 of 196 women who participated in a prospective BC morbidity trial. Limb volume was measured preoperatively and at 3-month intervals after surgery. If an increase >3% in upper limb (UL) volume developed compared with the preoperative volume, then a diagnosis of LE was made, and a compression garment intervention was prescribed for 4 weeks. Upon reduction of LE, garment wear was continued only during strenuous activity, with symptoms of heaviness, or with visible swelling. Women returned to the 3-month interval surveillance pathway. Statistical analysis was a repeated-measures analysis of variance by time and limb (P ≤ .001) comparing the LE cohort with an age-matched control group.

RESULTS

The time to onset of LE averaged 6.9 months postoperatively. The mean (±standard deviation) affected limb volume increase was 83 mL (±119 mL; 6.5% ± 9.9%) at LE onset (P = .005) compared with baseline. After the intervention, a statistically significant mean 48 mL (±103 mL; 4.1% ± 8.8%) volume decrease was realized (P < .0001). The mean duration of the intervention was 4.4 weeks (±2.9 weeks). Volume reduction was maintained at an average follow-up of 4.8 months (±4.1 months) after the intervention.

CONCLUSIONS

A short trial of compression garments effectively treated subclinical LE. Cancer 2008. Published 2008 by the American Cancer Society.