, Volume 21, Issue 8, pp 2207-2215

Transient swelling versus lymphoedema in the first year following surgery for breast cancer

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The aim was to better understand the incidence, time course and risk factors for swelling in the arm on the side of surgery over the first year following surgery for breast cancer.


Women (n = 160) were assessed 1 month following surgery and then randomised to the exercise or control group. Reassessment occurred 3, 9 and 15 months following surgery. Potential risk factors for swelling included age, body mass index, side of surgery and surgical and medical treatments for their breast cancer, physical measures of shoulder range of motion and strength, inter-limb arm circumference difference and the group to which they were randomised. Swelling was determined using bioimpedance spectroscopy with reference to previously established cut-offs for lymphoedema.


The number of women with swelling at 3, 9 and 15 months was 15, 15 and 13, respectively; however, at 15 months only 5/13 presented with swelling in either of the preceding assessments. The risk of swelling increased at 3, 9 and 15 months for each centimetre increase in the baseline inter-limb difference in sum of arm circumferences by 1.30, 1.17 and 1.14. In addition, risk of swelling at 3 months was 2.6 times greater for women in the control group; at 9 months, 7 times greater for women who had taxane-based chemotherapy; and at 15 months, the risk increased 1.16 times for each day the drain was in situ.


Swelling in the first year is likely to be transient, and factors including exercise and taxane chemotherapy affect the risk of developing swelling.