Ten million breast cancer survivors worldwide have a lifetime risk for developing lymphedema. Second only to the recurrence of cancer, it is the most dreaded effect of breast cancer treatment.

In a new study, University of Missouri have researchers found the risk of developing lymphedema is 40% to 60% higher in women with body mass index (BMI) classified as overweight or obese compared to normal-weight women. The researchers recommend increased health education for breast cancer survivors.

 “Breast cancer survivors with high BMIs will benefit from education focused on maintaining optimal BMI and lymphedema risk reduction practices,” says Jane Armer, professor in the Sinclair School of Nursing and director of nursing research at the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. “Overweight women have the greatest risk of developing lymphedema and should be monitored closely for changes in symptoms and limb volume, especially those who have cancer treatment to the dominant side or experience post-operation swelling.”

Based on the analysis, lymphedema is a risk for approximately two-thirds of breast cancer survivors in the 30 months after surgery. Breast cancer survivors who develop post-op swelling have a significantly higher risk (40%) of developing lymphedema. According to Armer, patients with high BMIs who experience post-op swelling or were affected by cancer on their dominant side have the highest risk of developing lymphedema. MU researchers found that comparing BMI and limb volume measurements can help clinicians better detect lymphedema.

“Diagnosing post-breast cancer lymphedema can be difficult because of inconsistent measurement approaches and standards of measurement reliability and validity,” Armer says. “Pre-op limb volume measurement is an essential reference for post-op volume comparison and detection of post-op swelling. Clinicians should consider using a 5% limb volume change (LVC) approach (beyond change in BMI) as a more sensitive estimation of post-breast cancer lymphedema.”

The study, “Post-Op Swelling and Lymphoedema Following Breast Cancer Treatment,” was published in the Journal of Lymphoedema, Vol. 3, No. 2. It was co-authored by Wannapa Kay Mahamaneerat, contract research scientist for the Post-Breast Cancer Lymphedema Project at MU and former graduate research assistant in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing and Computer Science Department; Chi-Ren Shyu, director of the MU Informatics Institute; and Bob Stewart, adjunct clinical faculty in the nursing school and professor emeritus of agricultural education at MU.

[Source: Science Daily]