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Support Care Cancer. 2011 Jun;19(6):853-7. doi: 10.1007/s00520-011-1089-9. Epub 2011 Jan 16.

Body mass index and breast cancer treatment-related lymphedema.

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School of Nursing, Vanderbilt University, 460 21st Avenue South, 525 Godchaux Hall, Nashville, TN 37240, USA.



The main purpose was to examine longitudinally the influence of body mass index (BMI) and obesity on the development of breast cancer treatment-related lymphedema. We asked, does elevated BMI increase lymphedema risk?


A secondary analysis was conducted on de-identified data collected from 138 newly diagnosed breast cancer survivors who had arm-volume measurements and symptom assessment at pre-treatment baseline and measurements up to 30 months post-surgery in a prospective longitudinal parent study. Arm volume and weight data, part of the information collected during each participant visit, were examined.


Breast cancer survivors whose BMI was ≥30 at the time of breast cancer treatment were approximately 3.6 times more likely to develop lymphedema at 6 months or greater after diagnosis than those with a BMI < 30 at the time of cancer treatment (95% confidence interval, C.I., for odds ratio, O.R., 1.42-9.04; p = 0.007). Those with a general BMI increase or a BMI rise to 30 or greater during their first 30 months of survivorship were not more likely to develop late-onset lymphedema than those who did not have similar changes in BMI.


Pre-treatment BMI may be a risk factor for lymphedema. Weight gain post-treatment may not be. Further research is warranted.

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