Many breast cancer patients experience longterm arm and hand swelling after treatment.
More than 55 percent of 580 breast cancer patients in a study, experienced swelling in the arms or hands , a condition known as lymphedema, after surgical removal of either the breast or the tumor.
Lymphedema was evident in about a third of the women and those with the swelling reported having a lower quality of life than those without the swelling.
Electra Paskett, lead author of a new study, says that women don't know about lymphedema. Paskett is a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Ohio State University's School of Public Health.
Paskett says that when a breast cancer survivor has swelling in her arm, she may immediately think that her cancer has come back, and the swelling, which may occur at any time, is a constant reminder of having had cancer.
The swelling occurs most often on the same side of the body as the breast affected by cancer, but is not usually a sign of the cancer recurring.
Lymphedema is caused by a build-up of lymphatic fluid and is more common among women who had a higher number of lymph nodes removed during surgery.
The study also found that being married was associated with a higher risk of lymphedema, but were unable to explain this association.
The researchers say there is no cure for lymphedema, which can be painful and make it difficult for affected patients to use their arms or hands. Swelling can be reduced through massage or by wearing a compression garment, such as a tight sleeve or glove, that forces lymph fluid out of the hand or arm and back into the body.
The study was presented on June 11 at the U.S. Department of Defense's Breast Cancer Research meeting meeting, in Philadelphia.