SAN ANTONIO (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS)Undergoing axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) is more likely to result in arm swelling and decreased range of arm motion in young breast cancer patients, as compared with having a sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB), according to new findings.

In a large prospective cohort study that included 1,302 breast cancer patients aged 40 or younger, the incidence of arm swelling 1 year after diagnosis among women who underwent breast-conserving surgery was 6% for the SLNB group versus 24% for those who had ALND. Among patients who had a mastectomy, the rates were similar; 6% versus 23% for SLNB or ALND, respectively.

“Young breast cancer survivors report high rates of arm morbidity in the first year of follow-up,” said lead author Anne Kuijer, MD, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Axillary node dissection, increased BMI [body mass index] and socioeconomic status were all independently associated with an increased risk of arm swelling,” she said at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

She noted that patients who received mastectomy with radiation therapy were twice as likely to have decreased range of motion at 1 year, compared with patients treated with breast-conserving treatment.

In this study, the authors evaluated the incidence of arm morbidity associated with both ALND and SLNB in patients who were enrolled in the Young Women’s Breast Cancer Study. This multicenter prospective cohort study was designed to explore biological, medical, and psychosocial issues experienced by young breast cancer patients.

Within this large cohort, 55% had undergone an SLNB only, and 41% an ALND. The remaining patients did not undergo either procedure.

The primary endpoint of this study was to examine the incidence of patient-reported arm swelling or decreased range of motion at 1 year after their breast cancer diagnosis. Patients used the Cancer Rehabilitation Evaluation System (CARES-SF) to measure their symptoms.

Overall, at 1 year, 13% of the cohort reported arm swelling, and 40% reported decreased range of motion in the ipsilateral arm.

Several factors were associated with a higher risk of arm morbidity. Patients with a BMI of greater than 25 were more likely to report arm swelling vs. those with lower BMI (odds ratio, 1.7; P = .03) as well as have less range of motion (OR, 1.5; P = .05). Women who reported feeling financially comfortable were 40% less likely to report swelling (P = .02) and 90% less likely to report decreased range of motion (P = .67).

In addition, those who underwent ALND were 3.4 times more likely to report swelling, compared with women who had SLNB, but it was not associated with a reduction in range of motion.

One limitation of the study is that the cohort included patients who had received treatment at large cancer centers in the Northeast, suggesting that they may have been of higher socioeconomic status and may have led more active lifestyles, compared with the general population. Another limitation is that arm morbidity was self-reported and not objectively measured.

“I think our findings highlight opportunities for preoperative counseling, early referral of patients to physical therapy, and identification of resources for support of those at increased risk,” said Dr. Kuijer.

SOURCE: Kuijer et al. SABCS Abstract GS5-03