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Cancer surgery causes arm swelling

Women may develop arm swelling, a bothersome condition known as lymphoedema after breast cancer surgery.

Cancer surgery causes arm swelling

Women may develop an arm swelling, a bothersome condition known as lymphoedema after breast cancer surgery. Lymphoedema is associated with adverse physical and psychosocial consequences among women with breast cancer. The condition can occur if the lymphatic drainage is blocked or cut due to surgery, especially for cancers; radiotherapy; accidental trauma which may tear the lymphatic vessels, and parasites like filarial worms which cause inflammation and blockage of the lymphatic system. To assess the prevalence of lymphoedema among women after breast cancer surgery, researchers from Australia followed 190 women who were recently operated for breast cancer. The participants were asked to fill questionnaires regarding disability and symptoms of pain in the arms, shoulders and hands. From 6 to 18 months after surgery, 62 women i.e. nearly 30 percent developed lymphoedema and 40 percent of the women experienced long-term arm swelling lasting more than 3 months, with or without intermittent periods of relief. It was found that extensive breast surgery increased the risk of lymphoedema six-fold. Also, women with lymphoedema were twice as likely to have poorer upper-body function when compared with women who had not developed arm swelling. The researchers identified insufficient physical activity and not using the affected arm as the two major risk factors for arm swelling after breast cancer surgery and that the use of the treated side decreased the risk of developing lymphoedema.
Archives of Internal Medicine
August 2008
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