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Cancer. 1998 Dec 15;83(12 Suppl American):2803-4.

A review of measures of lymphedema.

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Warren G. Magnuson Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.



Lymphedema usually is identified by patients, and rarely is it screened for routinely. Many assessments have been reported and have been used in evaluating a variety of treatments for lymphedema.


A review of the literature was undertaken.


Five frequently used measures of lymphedema include circumferential measures of limbs at various points (usually at bony landmarks); volumetric measures using limb submersion in water; skin tonometry, in which soft tissue compression is quantified; imaging techniques to describe tissue characteristics as well as to quantify soft tissue swelling (magnetic resonance imaging and computerized tomography; and ultrasound with and without Doppler flow studies for volumetric measures. Circumferential measures with calculations designed to compute limb volumes and volumetric measures are used most frequently, but these have some difficulty with reliability. No significant effort has been made to develop a patient based questionnaire that describes the size as well as the impact of lymphedema on an individual's functional level.


Existing physical measures of lymphedema are available that are easy to use, inexpensive, have limited reliability, and do not address the issue of functional impact. Imaging techniques may provide valuable qualitative and quantitative information in selected populations.

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