“Lymphedema worsens quality of life for breast cancer patients,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Andrea Barrio. She is an associate attending physician in the breast service department at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
Understanding the links between race, cancer treatment and the effects of treatment could ultimately help improve quality of life for breast cancer patients and survivors, Barrio said in a news release from the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
Lymphedema has been somewhat overlooked in the research arena, said Dr. Stephanie Bernik, an associate professor of breast surgery at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. She was not involved in the study.
For the study, the researchers enrolled more than 300 breast cancer patients and used arm volume measurements rather than more common self-reported experiences or diagnosis codes.
The patients had undergone axillary lymph node dissection — surgical removal of lymph nodes — between November 2016 and March 2020.
The researchers measured patients’ arm volume at baseline, after their surgery and at six-month intervals. The study defined lymphedema as relative volume change of 10% or greater from the baseline.
At 24 months of follow-up, about 25% of the women had developed lymphedema. Black women had a 3.5-fold increased risk of lymphedema compared to white women, the findings showed.
Barrio said other research has proven that Black women are often diagnosed with later-stage breast cancer. They are thus more likely to need the axillary surgery that can increase risk for lymphedema. Still, Black race was the strongest predictor of lymphedema development.
Other factors associated with a higher risk of lymphedema were older age and increasing time from surgery.
The findings will be presented this week at the breast cancer symposium. Findings presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
SOURCES: Stephanie Bernik, MD, chief, breast surgery, Mount Sinai West and associate professor, breast surgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City; San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, news release, Dec. 7, 2021