J Oncol Pract 2019 May 22;15(5):255-262. Epub 2019 Apr 22.
1 Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE.
Breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL) is a potentially debilitating and often irreversible complication of breast cancer treatment. Risk of BCRL is proportional to the extent of axillary surgery and radiation. Other risk factors include obesity and infections. Given the 5-year survival rate of 90% and its potential impact on the quality of life of survivors of breast cancer, BCRL has become a significant financial burden on the health care system. Minimizing axillary surgery and radiation has been proven to reduce the risk of BCRL. Comprehensive multidisciplinary assessment at the time of initial diagnosis; early referral to physical therapy after surgery; and patient education regarding weight loss, skin, and nail care are cornerstones of the management of early-stage lymphedema. End-stage lymphedema may benefit from referral to a plastic surgeon specializing in lymphedema surgery. In this review, we attempt to review the incidence, risk factors, staging, prevention, and management of this complication of breast cancer treatment. We also describe our multidisciplinary approach for the prevention of this complication at the time of initial diagnosis.
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