Obesity Increases Lymphedema Risk For Breast Cancer Survivors

Breast cancer survivors who are obese have an increased risk of lymphedema according to a study by the University of Missouri. In a news release dated December 16, 2008, the MU researcher reported that the risk of lymphedema is 40 to 60 percent higher in women with a body mass index, or BMI, that is classified as overweight or obese.

Worldwide, there are 10 million breast cancer survivors who have a lifetime risk of developing lymphedema. The chronic condition is the swelling of limbs. In the case of a breast cancer survivor the swelling would most likely affect the arms.

The abnormal swelling of the limbs is an emotionally upsetting side effect of cancer treatment. Lymph glands carry fluids throughout the system. Surgery and radiation damages the lymph system, so that the fluid is not carried through the system as it should be. This causes an abnormal swelling in the extremities

Any woman can get lymphedema, but women who are overweight are at a higher risk of the uncomfortable condition. According to information on the Sinclair School of Nursing website, as estimated two million women in the US are at risk of developing the abnormal swelling. This new report indicates that women who are obese have a much higher risk of lymphedema compared two women of normal weight.

According to Jane Armer, profession a the Sinclair School of Nursing and director of nursing research at the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, women who are overweight have the greatest risk of developing lymphedema. Overweight women should be closely monitored for changes in symptoms and limb volume.

According to the news release, approximately two thirds of breast cancer survivors are at risk of lymphedema in the 30 months after surgery. Survivors who develop post operative swelling have a 40 percent higher risk of developing lymphedema, which is significant.

Diagnoses of post operative breast cancer lymphedema can be difficult because of inconsistent measurement approaches and standards of measurement, according to Armer. A measurement of the limb before surgery is essential for detection of post operative swelling.

Doctors and patients may neglect to treat the lymphedema. Medical treatments include compression garments, prescriptions to manage pain and a specific massage treatment called manual lymphatic drainage. Patient frequently use lay therapies without discussing them with their physicians.

Education about lymphedema can help breast cancer survivors to recognize symptoms and to report them to their oncologists. Women who are overweight or obese may wish to discuss a weight control plan with their doctor to reduce their risk of lymphedema.