NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Weight loss appears to be an effective way to reduce breast cancer-associated lymphedema of the arm, according to UK researchers.
Lymphedema is common, chronic condition that often develops after breast surgery, in which excess fluid collects in the lymph nodes and vessels in the armpit. Treatment for this condition has usually "centered on skin care, external support and compression, exercise and movement and simple lymphatic drainage," lead investigator Dr. Clare Shaw told Reuters Health. "This is the first time that weight reduction has been shown to influence the size of a lymphedematous arm," the researcher points out.
Shaw of the Royal Marsden National Health Service Foundation Trust, London, and colleagues note that obesity is a risk factor for lymphedema of the arm as well as for poor response to treatment.
To investigate whether weight reduction might benefit in these patients, the researchers studied 21 obese women with breast cancer-related lymphedema. Their average body mass index (BMI) was 32. BMI is the ratio of height to weight used to estimate if individuals are overweight or underweight. People with a BMI of 30 or greater are considered obesity.
The patients were randomly assigned to receive specific dietary advice aimed at cutting out 1,000 kcal per day or to receive an information booklet on healthy eating.
After 12 weeks, the intervention group had lost an average of 3.3 kg (7.3 lbs), their BMI was reduced by an average of 1.3, and excess arm volume fell from 25 percent to 15 percent. There were no changes in weight or in arm volume in the control group.
"Weight management should become an integral part of the management of breast cancer-related lymphedema," concluded Shaw. Overweight patients should be given information on the potential benefits of weight reduction and support to help them achieve it.