Expert Panel Issues Lymphedema White Paper: Calls for Early Detection and Intervention to Reduce Lymphedema Progression

Avon Foundation for Women-sponsored white paper reports latest lymphedema clinical advances that could benefit many of the 2.3 million U.S. breast cancer survivors 

New York City, July 27, 2011 –

An expert panel issued a white paper examining new evidence that shows early detection and intervention hold the greatest promise for reducing breast cancer-related lymphedema, which affects up to one-third of the 180,000 newly diagnosed breast cancer patients annually and 2.3 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. The Avon Foundation for Women, in partnership with the Lymphatic Research Foundation and the National Lymphedema Network, convened a group of leading scientists, clinicians and advocates in April 2011 to discuss recent advances in the early detection and early intervention of upper extremity lymphedema. The expert panel produced several recommendations, which are shared in a white paper released today, Recent Advances in Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema Detection and Treatment.

Breast cancer-related lymphedema is a chronic, debilitating disorder that may occur following surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy that causes limb swelling and chronic inflammation. According to the white paper, monitoring for lymphedema onset in breast cancer patients is essential—and medically necessary—and should include capturing baseline arm volume measurements prior to treatment and follow-up measurements at regular intervals once breast cancer treatment is completed.  By the time lymphedema is visually detectable, it has already progressed to advanced stages. Regular surveillance, using tools such as perometry or bioimpedance spectroscopy (BIS), in the years following breast cancer treatment can reduce the development of irreversible lymphedema and improve quality of life.

“Lymphedema can have devastating physical and emotional consequences for breast cancer survivors,” said Marc Hurlbert, executive director of the Avon Foundation for Women Breast Cancer Crusade. “The expert panel’s recommendations for lymphedema care can dramatically change the lives of breast cancer patients. Early detection of lymphedema can identify sub-clinical lymphedema at a time when simple, cost-effective interventions can be used to prevent it from evolving into advanced stages of lymphedema and reduce the condition’s severity.”

The white paper recommends that breast cancer survivors be closely monitored for the development of lymphedema and learn how to reduce their risk of developing the disorder, such as by recognizing the physical triggers (e.g. cuts or burns on the fingers) that may transform the disease from latent to active and by maintaining meticulous skin care hygiene and a healthy body weight. Recent studies in weight lifting, exercise and weight loss also have demonstrated a benefit in preventing lymphedema: stretching, aerobics and arm and leg weight lifting resulted in fewer flare-ups among patients with lymphedema and reduced the chance of developing the condition among at-risk patients by 70%. 

“The Lymphatic Research Foundation (LRF) and our National Lymphatic Disease and Lymphedema Registry (NLDLR) were pleased to partner with the Avon Foundation for Women in co-sponsoring this important conference,” said Jacqueline Reinhard, executive director of the Lymphatic Research Foundation.  “Publication of the resulting White Paper – Recent Advances in Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema Detection and Treatment – provides a much-needed resource for the many patients living with lymphedema, as well as the researchers and treatment professionals involved in this field.”

At the Avon Foundation symposium, the National Lymphedema Network (NLN) also shared its recent position paper on lymphedema screening and treatment. The NLN’s position paper recommends all breast cancer patients receive pre- and post-treatment measurements on both arms, as well as consistent measurements throughout their treatment, and use bioimpedance spectroscopy (BIS) or infrared perometry as alternatives to a tape measure. These precautions have proven to reduce the occurrence of false negative and false positive results which could be obtained by using a tape measure.

For more information about lymphedema or to download Recent Advances in Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema Detection and Treatment or the National Lymphedema Network’s recent white paper, please visit www.avonfoundation.org/programs-and-events/lymphedema-information.html.