5 years ago

Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema Risk is Related to Multidisciplinary Treatment and Not Surgery Alone: Results from a Large Cohort Study

Tanya L. Hoskin, Andrea L. Cheville, Elizabeth B. Habermann, Judy C. Boughey, Toan T. Nguyen



Breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL) is a significant complication for women undergoing treatment. We assessed BCRL incidence and risk factors in a large population-based cohort.


We utilized the Olmsted County Rochester Epidemiology Project Breast Cancer Cohort from 1990–2010 and ascertained BCRL and risk factors. The cumulative incidence estimator was used to estimate the rate of BCRL; competing risks regression was used for multivariable analysis.


A total of 1794 patients with stage 0–3 breast cancer with a median of 10 years follow-up were included. The cumulative incidence of BCRL diagnosis within 5 years was 9.1% [95% confidence interval (CI) 7.8–10.5%]. No BCRL events occurred among patients without axillary surgery. In the axillary surgery subset (n = 1512), the 5-year incidence of BCRL was 5.3% in sentinel lymph node (SLN) surgery and 15.9% in axillary dissection (ALND) patients (p < 0.001). In patients treated with surgery only, BCRL rates were not different between ALND versus SLN (3.5 and 4.1% at 5 years, p = 0.36). Addition of breast or chest wall radiation more than doubled the BCRL rate in ALND patients (3.5 vs. 9.5% at 5 years, p = 0.01). The groups with highest risk (>25% at 5 years) all involved ALND with nodal RT and/or anthracycline/cytoxan + taxane chemotherapy. In multivariable analysis of patients with any axillary surgery factors significantly associated with BCRL were ALND, chemotherapy, radiation, and obesity.


BCRL is a sequelae of multimodal breast cancer treatment and risk is multifactorial. BCRL rates are higher in patients receiving chemotherapy, radiation, ALND, more advanced disease stage, and higher body mass index.

Publisher URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1245/s10434-017-5960-x

DOI: 10.1245/s10434-017-5960-x

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