Patrick W. Whitworth, MD
Breast cancer-related lymphedema affects from 3 million to 5 million people in the United States. Approximately 23,000 new cases (7% after sentinel node biopsy, 25% after axillary dissection) are expected this year. On top of the daily harm to quality of life, lymphedema can make it impossible for a patient to successfully move on from cancer treatment. And from an economic standpoint, a recent analysis of commercial payers found that within 2 years of treatment, a diagnosis of lymphedema adds ,600 to the average cost of treatment for a patient with breast cancer.1
But now, several breast cancer treatment programs are reporting a substantially reduced incidence of clinical lymphedema, particularly for patients at high risk after axillary dissection, radiation, or taxane-based chemotherapy. Employing preclinical detection using bioimpedance spectroscopy (BIS), breast centers are reporting progression to clinical lymphedema in less than 10% of such high-risk patients. How is such a significant reduction possible? The answer comes from one of the main principles in breast cancer treatment: early detection and tailored intervention.
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