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BACKGROUND: It has previously been shown that the lymph drainage rate in both upper limbs is greater in women destined to develop breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL) than in those who do not develop BCRL, indicating a constitutive predisposition. We explored constitutive differences further by measuring the maximum lymphatic pump pressure (Ppump) and the rate of (99m)Tc-Nanocoll transport generated by the contractile upper limb lymphatics before and after breast cancer surgery in a group of women who were followed for 2 years to determine their eventual BCRL or non-BCRL status.
METHODS AND RESULTS: Ppump and tracer transport rate were measured by lymphatic congestion lymphoscintigraphy in the ipsilateral upper limb in 26 women pre- and post-breast cancer surgery. BCRL occurred in 10/26 (38.5%) cases. Ppump in the women who later developed BCRL (40.0 ± 8.2 mmHg) was 1.7-fold higher than in those who did not develop BCRL (23.1 ± 10.8 mmHg, p = 0.001). Moreover, the rate of lymph tracer transport into the forearm was 2.2-fold greater in the women who later developed BCRL (p = 0.052). Surgery did not significantly reduce Ppump measured 21 weeks postsurgery, but impaired forearm tracer transport in pre-BCRL women by 58% (p = 0.047), although not in those who did not develop BCRL.
CONCLUSIONS: Women destined to develop BCRL have higher pumping pressures and lymph transport, indicating harder-working lymphatics before cancer treatment. Axillary lymphatic damage from surgery appears to compromise lymph drainage in those women constitutively predisposed to higher lymphatic pressures and lymph transport.
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