Hand Edema in Patients at Risk of Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema: Health Professionals Should Take Notice

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There is little research on hand edema in the population at risk for breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL).


Study aims included reporting potential importance of hand edema (HE) as a risk factor for progression of edema in patients treated for breast cancer at risk for BCRL, reporting risk factors for BCRL, and reporting treatment of HE.


This was a retrospective analysis of 9 patients treated for breast cancer in Massachusetts General Hospital's lymphedema screening program who presented with isolated HE. Limb volumes via perometry, BCRL risk factors, and HE treatment are reported.


Edema was mostly isolated to the hand. Three patients had arm edema >5% on perometry; and 2 of these had edema outside the hand on clinical examination. Patients were at high risk of BCRL with an average of 2.9/5 known risk factors. Arm edema progressed to >10% in 2 high-risk patients. Treatment resulted in an average hand volume reduction of 10.2% via perometry and improvement upon clinical examination.


The small sample size and lack of validated measures of subjective data were limitations.


In this cohort, patients with HE carried significant risk factors for BCRL. Two out of 9 (22%), both carrying ≥4/5 risk factors, progressed to edema >10%. Isolated HE may be a prognostic factor for edema progression in patients treated for breast cancer at risk for BCRL. Further research is warranted.

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