Friday, August 08, 2008

Arm swelling after breast cancer surgery common

Arm swelling after breast cancer surgery common

Thu Aug 7, 2008 11:58am EDT

By Megan Rauscher

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Following surgery for breast cancer, many women will experience arm swelling - a bothersome condition doctors refer to as lymphedema.

Lymphedema is a public health issue "deserving greater attention," doctors from Australia wrote in a recently published paper.

Among 287 women with breast cancer, 190 took part in all assessments during 18 months of follow-up after surgery and arm swelling developed in 62 (33 percent) of them during that time, Dr. Sandra C. Hayes and colleagues from Queensland University of Technology in Kelvin Grove found.
Roughly 60 percent of these women had fleeting symptoms, whereby the lymphedema dissipated with or without treatment. However, 40 percent of women experienced long-term arm swelling lasting more than 3 months, with or without intermittent periods of relief.

Women with lymphedema, Hayes told Reuters Health, "were twice as likely to have poorer upper-body function when compared with women who had not developed arm swelling. Poor upper body function is associated with reduced quality of life," she noted.

More extensive breast surgery increased the odds of lymphedema six-fold and having more than 20 cancerous lymph nodes removed increased odds four-fold.

Hayes noted that two identified risk factors for arm swelling post-surgery -- insufficient physical activity and not using the affected arm -- "are amenable to interventions and should be investigated for their preventive and therapeutic effects among women after treatment for breast cancer."

"It was found that use of the treated side likely decreases risk of developing lymphedema," Hayes said.

Journal of Clinical Oncology, July 20, 2008.