Purpose/Objective: The symptoms associated with breast cancer-related lymphedema are well-documented, and include sensations of heaviness, swelling, and tightness in the upper extremity and trunk. However, the clinical significance of low-level arm volume changes frequently experienced by breast cancer patients is not well understood. We sought to determine the association of low level arm volume changes with patient-reported lymphedema symptoms in women treated for breast cancer.

Methods: 267 patients who underwent surgical treatment for breast cancer from 2010–2012 were identified from a cohort of patients prospectively screened for lymphedema at our institution. Patients were assessed with perometer arm volume measurements and a survey of lymphedema symptoms pre and post operatively, and at 3–7 month intervals thereafter. Inclusion in this analysis was limited to unilaterally affected women with ≥ 3 assessments and ≥ 6 months of post-surgical follow-up. Arm volume changes were quantified as Relative Volume Change (RVC): RVC = (A2*U1)/(U2*A1) − 1, where A1 is pre-operative arm volume and A2 is post-operative arm volume on the affected side, and U1 and U2 are arm volumes on the unaffected side at these time points. Low level arm volume change was defined as a measurement with RVC ≥ 5% <10% at an assessment ≥ 3 months post-operatively. Actuarial univariate and multivariate regression analysis was performed to determine the association of low level arm volume change with patient-reported lymphedema symptoms and clinicopathological characteristics.

Results: Low level arm volume changes occurred in 21.7% (58/267) of patients during the follow-up period at a median of 10.4 months post-operatively. Median post-operative follow-up was 12.4 months and 5 assessments per patient. By actuarial univariate analysis, symptoms of larger arm, shoulder, or neck (p < 0.001), tighter sleeve, sleeve cuff, or ring (p < 0.001), and having undergone axillary lymph node dissection (p = 0.02) or regional lymph node radiation (p = 0.01) were significantly associated with low-level arm volume change. By actuarial multivariate analysis, only symptoms of larger arm, shoulder, or neck (p < 0.0001) were associated with low level arm volume change.

Conclusions: This data suggests that patients may be symptomatic for lymphedema even when experiencing low level arm volume changes. These patients should be followed closely for progression of measured arm volume or heightened lymphedema symptoms suggesting progression of the condition.

Citation Information: Cancer Res 2012;72(24 Suppl):Abstract nr P6-09-04.