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Lymphedema in Young Breast Cancer Survivors
Lymphedema, a persistent swelling that occurs most frequently in the arms or hands, is a common side effect among breast cancer patients after surgery or radiation. Often debilitating, it can make it hard to button a blouse, wear rings or do any number of other things. Now, for the first time, researchers are studying how the condition affects young breast cancer survivors. Their conclusion: lymphedema impairs quality of life for almost a third.
The condition is caused by an accumulation of lymphatic fluid when lymph nodes are removed. To determine the risk factors associated with increased lymphedema, researchers from the Ohio State University used questionnaires to monitor 622 breast cancer survivors, all age 45 or younger at diagnosis, for a period of three years following breast surgery. About half reported at least one incident of swelling, while a third reported persistent problems, according to the April issue of the Journal of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention.
Some of the risk factors for increased swelling include having a greater number of lymph nodes removed, receiving chemotherapy and being obese. The findings suggest that preventive education in areas like weight control and exercise could reduce a patient's risk for developing lymphedema. The results can also help doctors identify patients at greatest risk of developing the condition, enabling them to seek early treatment.