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Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2007 Apr;16(4):775-82.

The epidemiology of arm and hand swelling in premenopausal breast cancer survivors.

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Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, A356 Starling-Loving Hall, 320 West 10th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.



Breast cancer survivors suffer from lymphedema of the arm and/or hand. Accurate estimates of the incidence and prevalence of lymphedema are lacking, as are the effects of this condition on overall quality of life.


Six hundred twenty-two breast cancer survivors (age, <or=45 years at diagnosis) were followed with semiannual questionnaires for 36 months after surgery to determine the incidence of lymphedema, prevalence of persistent swelling, factors associated with each, and quality of life.


Of those contacted and eligible for the study, 93% agreed to participate. Fifty-four percent reported arm or hand swelling by 36 months after surgery, with 32% reporting persistent swelling. Swelling was reported to occur in the upper arm (43%), the hand only (34%), and both arm and hand (22%). Factors associated with an increased risk of developing swelling included having a greater number of lymph nodes removed [hazards ratio (HR), 1.02; P < 0.01], receiving chemotherapy (HR, 1.76; P = 0.02), being obese (HR, 1.51 versus normal weight; P = 0.01), and being married (HR, 1.36; P = 0.05). Factors associated with persistent swelling were having more lymph nodes removed (odds ratio, 1.03; P = 0.01) and being obese (odds ratio, 2.24 versus normal weight; P < 0.01). Women reporting swelling had significantly lower quality of life as measured by the functional assessment of cancer therapy-breast total score and the SF-12 physical and mental health subscales (P < 0.01 for each).


Lymphedema occurs among a substantial proportion of young breast cancer survivors. Weight management may be a potential intervention for those at greatest risk of lymphedema to maintain optimal health-related quality of life among survivors.

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