lymphedema after breast cancer surgery have we made any progress
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Lymphedema after breast cancer surgery: Have we made any progress?. Tina Yen, M.D., MS Department of Surgery Medical College of Wisconsin Milwaukee, WI October 25, 2008. Outline. Symptoms and sequelae Measurements Incidence Risk factors Prevention Treatment. Lymphedema.

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lymphedema after breast cancer surgery have we made any progress

Lymphedema after breast cancer surgery: Have we made any progress?

Tina Yen, M.D., MS

Department of Surgery

Medical College of Wisconsin

Milwaukee, WI

October 25, 2008

  • Symptoms and sequelae
  • Measurements
  • Incidence
  • Risk factors
  • Prevention
  • Treatment
  • Accumulation of protein-rich fluid in the surrounding tissues
  • Etiology
    • Surgery
    • Radiation
    • Infection
    • Trauma
  • Lymph transport is interrupted
    • Physical disruption of channels due to surgery
    • Compression of lymphatic channels from radiation or surgical changes
    • Obstruction of lymphatics by tumor
  • Lifetime risk
  • Tissue swelling/edema
  • Repeated episodes of infection
  • Chronic inflammation
    • Stasis of protein-rich fluid
    • Impaired immune clearance
  • Fibrosis (hardening)
  • Variable time of onset
  • Temporary or permanent
  • Variable severity
  • Not curable




Other sensory changes


Decreased range of motion

sequelae of lymphedema
Sequelae of lymphedema
  • Physical discomfort and upper extremity disability
    • Alter activities of daily living
  • Cosmetic deformity
  • Recurrent arm infections
  • Psychosocial morbidity
    • Anxiety, depression, and emotional distress
    • Psychological distress
    • Sexual, physical, and social dysfunction
  • Diminished quality of life
objective measures
Objective measures
  • Circumferential arm measurements
    • Measurements of both arms at various points
  • Volumetric measurements
    • Limb submersion in water
    • More accurate but difficult to perform
  • Skin/soft tissue tonometry
    • Soft-tissue compression is quantified
    • Not standardized procedure
measurement issues
Measurement issues
  • All three methods employed
  • No standard definition of lymphedema
    • Most common definition is > 2 cm difference between circumference measurements from both arms
  • No reliable or standard measure exists
    • Measure lymphedema
    • Assess the functional impact of lymphedema
wide variation in lymphedema incidence rates
Wide variation in lymphedema incidence rates
  • Two recent comprehensive reviews (1985-1999)
    • 6% to 30%
    • 0% to 56% (mean 26%)
  • Reasons for variability
    • Retrospective, single-institutional, small numbers
    • Extent of breast and axillary surgery
    • Use and extent of radiation therapy
    • Completeness and duration of follow-up
    • No standardized methods used to define lymphedema
    • No standard time interval to assess for lymphedema
    • Selection bias
established risk factors for lymphedema
Established risk factors for lymphedema
  • Axillary radiation therapy plus ALND
    • 41% incidence of lymphedema (21% - 51%)
  • Extent of axillary surgery
    • 17% incidence of lymphedema (6% - 39%)
    • Risk of lymphedema increases with the number of lymph nodes removed
  • Issues
    • Older data
    • More extensive operations
    • More frequent use of axillary radiation

Positive for metastases (33%)


Negative for metastases (66%)



Sentinel lymph node biopsy in breast cancer

Sentinel lymph node biopsy

Selective approach to ALND


Preoperative lymphoscintigraphy

Intraoperative injection of lymphazurin

Axillary SLN

Injection of radiocolloid

Lymphatic Mapping Technique

lymphedema and arm morbidity after slnb
Lymphedema and arm morbidity after SLNB
  • Compared with ALND patients, SLNB patients have:
    • Less lymphedema (0-7%)
    • Less pain
    • Less numbness
    • Better arm mobility
    • Less psychological morbidity
    • Better quality of life
  • Limitations of current studies
    • Small numbers
    • Single institution
    • Retrospective
    • Short follow-up (12-24 months)
other potential risk factors
Other potential risk factors
  • Patient age
  • Patient weight/BMI
  • History of arm infections
  • Extent of disease
    • Tumor size
    • Nodal involvement
  • Type of breast surgery (lumpectomy vs. mastectomy)
  • Type of axillary surgery (SLNB vs. ALND)
  • Treatment modalities
    • Radiation therapy
    • Chemotherapy
    • Hormonal therapy
  • Surgeon technique
population based study of older breast cancer patients
Population-based study of older breast cancer patients
  • Population-based cohort of 2,154 women
    • Aged 65-89 years at time of breast cancer surgery in 2003
  • Reside in California, Florida or Illinois
  • Three telephone surveys
    • Completed at median of 48 months after surgery
    • Variables: demographic and adjuvant treatment
  • Medicare claims
    • Type of breast and axillary surgery
    • Surgeon volume
  • State tumor registries
self reported lymphedema
Self-reported lymphedema
  • Since your breast cancer surgery, has a doctor ever told you that you have lymphedema or arm edema?
  • Since your breast cancer surgery, have you had hand or arm swelling on the side of your breast cancer surgery that you have not had on the other side?
  • 2,154 women were operated on by 966 different surgeons
  • Majority had early stage disease
    • 17% DCIS
    • 64% Node-negative
    • 18% Node-positive
    • 0.7% Distant disease
  • 64% breast-conserving surgery
  • Type of axillary surgery
    • 19% none
    • 23% SLNB alone
    • 58% ALND
  • 15.5% (n = 333) had self-reported lymphedema at a median of 48 months postoperatively
univariate analysis
Univariate analysis
  • Younger age (72.1 vs. 72.9 years)
  • Higher BMI
    • Time of surgery (27.7 vs. 26.8)
    • At 48 months postoperatively (27.9 vs. 26.5)
  • More extensive disease
    • Larger tumor size
    • Presence of lymph node metastases
    • Higher tumor stage
  • More extensive surgery
    • Mastectomy vs. lumpectomy
    • ALND vs. SLNB
    • More lymph nodes removed
  • Chemotherapy
  • No association: change in BMI since surgery, race, tumor grade, receipt of radiation or hormonal therapy, and surgeon volume

Number of lymph nodes removed is the only independent predictor of the development of lymphedema

Model also adjusts for patient age, BMI at time of surgery, tumor size, lymph node status, type of breast and axillary surgery, receipt of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and surgeon volume

study summary
Study summary
  • 15.5% self-reported lymphedema at 4 years
  • Only independent predictor of lymphedema was the removal of > 5 lymph nodes
      • Regardless of whether SLNB or ALND performed
  • Risk of lymphedema
    • No axillary surgery 6.0%
    • SLNB alone 7.4%
  • No association with lymphedema
    • Radiation therapy
    • Surgeon volume
    • Age, BMI, lymph node status, extent of breast surgery, and receipt of chemotherapy or hormonal therapy
study limitations conclusions
Study limitations/conclusions
  • Limitations
    • Cohort of older women
    • Medicare claims
    • Self-report of lymphedema
  • Conclusions
    • Consider the removal 5 or fewer lymph nodes with SLNB
    • Counsel women undergoing SLNB on their risk of lymphedema
prevention of lymphedema
Prevention of lymphedema


    • Production of lymph flow should not be increased
    • Blockage to lymph transport should not be increased
  • Avoid any procedures on the affected arm
  • Avoid punctures or injuries to the skin
  • Keep meticulous skin and nail care
  • Avoid constricting sleeves or jewelry
  • Avoid heat
  • Avoid excessive exercise to the affected arm
lymphedema treatment
Lymphedema treatment
  • Begin once lymphedema is recognized
  • Options
    • Elevation
    • Compression garments
    • Centripetal massage and exercises
    • Pneumatic compression devices
    • Program of complete decongestive physiotherapy (CDP)/decongestive lymphatic therapy (DLT)
complete decongestive physiotherapy
Complete decongestive physiotherapy
  • Phase I: Treatment phase (1-4 weeks)
    • 1 or 2 75- to 90-minute treatments daily
    • Meticulous skin and nail care
    • Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD)
    • Low-stretch multilayer bandaging
    • Physical therapy in bandages
  • Phase II: Maintenance phase (for life)
    • Meticulous skin and nail care
    • Elastic compression sleeve during the day
    • Low-stretch multilayer bandages overnight
    • Exercises in bandages
efficacy of treatments
Efficacy of treatments
  • Therapies are often used in combination
    • Most common modalities: elevation, massage, and exercise
  • Therapies show a 15% - 75% reduction in arm volume or circumference
  • Need for large randomized studies
    • Relative efficacy of interventions
    • Optimal timing of interventions
    • Effect of treatment on disease progression
  • Lymphedema causes physical and psychosocial morbidity.
  • Women with breast cancer have a life-long risk of developing lymphedema.
  • In our population-based cohort of older breast cancer women, 15.5% developed self-reported lymphedema at 4 years.
  • In our study, the only risk factor for the development of lymphedema is the removal of more than 5 lymph nodes.
  • Prevention measures are not evidence-based.
  • Treatment can be successful, especially if instituted early.
  • Patient Care and Outcomes Research (PCOR)
    • Ann B. Nattinger, MD, MPH
    • Rodney Sparapani, MS
    • Purushuttom Laud, PhD
    • Xiaolin Fan, PhD
    • Changbin Guo, BS
  • Alonzo P. Walker, MD
  • Funding support
    • NIH/NCI K07CA125586
    • NIH/NCI R01CA81379
  • National Lymphedema Network
  • National Cancer Institute
  • American Cancer Society