, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 115-123

Risk factors associated with breast cancer-related lymphedema in the WHEL Study

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Abstract

Introduction

Lymphedema is a significant health problem faced by a large percentage of breast cancer survivors. The Women’s Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) Study has a unique dataset collected after the completion of breast cancer treatment, which allowed a focused analysis of risk factors for breast cancer-related lymphedema.

Methods

Participant characteristics, treatment modalities, and health behaviors were examined as potential predictors of lymphedema among breast cancer survivors with univariate analyses and multivariate logistic regression.

Results

Lymphedema status was assessed for 83 % of the study cohort (2,431 of the 2,917 WHEL participants). Among these respondents, 692 (28.5 %) women reported yes to either a physician’s diagnosis of lymphedema or a question on arm/hand swelling. When compared to other participants, women with lymphedema were diagnosed at a younger age, more likely to have a higher body mass index, had a larger tumor size, had more lymph nodes removed, more likely to have a mastectomy with radiation therapy, and more likely to have chemotherapy. In the final multivariate-adjusted model, body mass index greater than 25 kg/m2 (p < 0.01), the removal of 11 or more lymph nodes (p < 0.01), and breast cancer surgery plus radiation therapy (p < 0.01) showed a strong independent association with developing breast cancer-related lymphedema.

Conclusions

The results of this study highlight the importance of educating breast cancer survivors about the modifiable risk factors (e.g., body mass index) associated with the development of lymphedema.

Implications for Cancer Survivors

Breast cancer survivors at risk for lymphedema may benefit from interventions aimed at achieving or maintaining a healthy body weight.