Correlates of Lymphedema in Women with Breast Cancer: a Case Control Study in Shiraz, Southern Iran


Health Policy Research Center, Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, Shiraz, Iran E-mail:


Globally, the burden of breast cancer (BC) continues to increase. BC related lymphedema (BCRL) is currently non curable and as a life time risk it affects at least 25% of BC patients. Knowing more about BCRL and appropriate control of its modifiable risk factors can improve quality of life (QOL) of the affected patients. In this case control study to detect factors, 400 women with BCRL (as the case group) and 283 patients with BC without lymphedema (as the control group) that were referred to Shiraz University of Medical Sciences affiliated BC clinic center were assessed. The data were analyzed in SPSS. The mean age of the case group was 52.3±11.0 years and of the control group was 50.1±10.9 years. In patients with BCRL, 203(50.7%) had left (Lt) side BC and in non- lymphedema group 151 (53.3%) had Lt side BC. Out of all BCRL patients, 204 (51%) had lymphedema in all parts of their affected upper extremities, 100 (25%) had swelling in the arm and forearm and 23 (5.7%) had edema in both the upper extremity and trunk. Edema, heaviness, concern about changing body image, pain and paresthesia were the most common signs/symptoms among patients with BCRL. In BCRL patients, the difference of circumference between the affected upper limb and non-affected limb was 4.4±2.5 cm and the difference in volume displacement was 528.7±374.4 milliliters. Multiple variable analysis showed that moderate to severe activity (OR; odds ratio =14, 95% CI: 2.6-73.3 ), invasiveness of BC (OR =13.7, 95% CI: 7.3-25.6), modified radical mastectomy (OR=4.3, 95% CI: 2.3-7.9), BMI =>25 (OR=4.2, 95% CI: 2-8.7), radiotherapy (OR=3.9, 95% CI: 1.8-8.2 ), past history of limb damage (OR=1.7, 95% CI: 0.9-3.1) and the number of excised lymph nodes (OR=1.06, 95% CI: 1.02-1.09) were the significant predictors of lymphedema in women with BC. Modifiable risk factors of BCRL such as non-guided moderate to severe physical activity, high BMI and trauma to the limb should be controlled as early as possible in BC patients to prevent development of BCRL and improve QOL of these patients.