Get access

Breast Edema in Patients Undergoing Breast-Conserving Treatment for Breast Cancer: Assessment via High Frequency Ultrasound


Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Dr. C. R. Wratten, Radiation Oncology, Newcastle Mater Hospital, Locked Bag 7, Hunter Region Mail Centre NSW 2310, Australia, or email:


Abstract:  To identify factors that can influence breast edema in women undergoing breast-conserving therapy. Breast edema was assessed clinically and via high frequency ultrasound (HFUS) prior to, during and following radiotherapy. Fifty-four women were assessed. Breast edema was present prior to radiotherapy in patients who had undergone level 2 node dissection or had wound infection after sentinel node dissection. Edema increased during and after radiotherapy and peaked at 4–6 months. The time course of breast edema was related to the extent of nodal dissection, postoperative wound infection and regional radiotherapy. HFUS prior to irradiation was found to be no better than clinical assessment in predicting prolonged parenchymal breast edema but was significantly better at the end of irradiation. Breast edema levels are minimal in patients who do not undergo axillary node dissection or have an uncomplicated sentinel node dissection. Most edema is due to compromise of the draining lymphatics, which relates largely to the extent of axillary node dissection. HFUS appears to be a useful in the research setting in quantifying the effect of techniques that aim to reduce complications such as edema.