Lymphedema is a potential side effect of breast cancer surgery, radiation therapy, and sometimes chemotherapy that can appear in some people during the months or even years after treatment ends.
Lymph is a thin, clear fluid that circulates throughout the body to remove wastes, bacteria, and other substances from tissues. Edema is the buildup of excess fluid. So, lymphedema occurs when too much lymph collects in any area of the body. If lymphedema develops in people who’ve been treated for breast cancer, it usually occurs in the arm and hand, but sometimes it affects the breast, underarm, chest, trunk, and/or back.
Breast cancer surgery, especially when several lymph nodes are removed, and radiation can cut off or damage some of the nodes and vessels through which lymph moves. Over time, the flow of lymph can overwhelm the remaining pathways, resulting in a backup of fluid into the body’s tissues.
While lymphedema can affect the breast, chest, and underarm areas, it’s more common in the arm or hand on the same side as breast cancer surgery. Because early swelling in the arm can be hard to notice, treatment guidelines recommend taking baseline measurements before surgery and then at regular intervals afterward.
A small study suggests that conducting baseline measurements with bioimpedance spectroscopy, followed by regular measurements with the same technique, can identify lymphedema very early. This early detection allowed the lymphedema to be successfully treated with self-massage and a compression sleeve.
The research was presented on May 8, 2018 at the 2018 American Society of Breast Surgeons Annual Meeting. Read the abstract of “Reducing breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL) through prospective surveillance monitoring using bioimpedance spectroscopy (BIS) and patient-directed self-interventions” (PDF; scr…
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