Nav: Home

NYU researchers study patients' genetic and susceptibility risk factors for lymphedema

February 08, 2017

Each year, about 1.38 million women worldwide are diagnosed with breast cancer. Advances in diagnosis and treatment have facilitated a 90-percent, five-year survival rate, among those treated. However, with the increased rate and length of survival following breast cancer, patients face a lifetime risk of developing lymphedema, one of the most distressing and feared late onset breast cancer-related effects.

Lymphedema is an abnormal accumulation of lymph fluid in the ipsilateral body area, or upper limb. This remains an ongoing major health problem affecting more than 40 percent of 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. Lymphedema following breast cancer surgery is typically considered to be primarily due to the mechanical injury from surgery. However, recent research has found that inflammation-infection and higher body mass index are also main predictors of lymphedema.

Researchers from New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing (NYU Meyers), led by Dr. Mei R. Fu, PhD, RN, FAAN, conducted a study, "Precision assessment of heterogeneity of lymphedema phenotype, genotypes and risk prediction," to address this phenomenon and prospectively examine phenotype of arm lymphedema by limb volume and lymphedema symptoms in relation to inflammatory genes in women treated for breast cancer.

The study, published in The Breast, is the first of its kind in exploring associations between genetic susceptibility targeting identified phenotypic risk factors of inflammation and heterogeneous phenotypes of lymphedema.

"It remains puzzling that up to 23% of survivors who only had lumpectomy with sentinel lymph node biopsy of 1 or 2 lymph nodes removed have developed lymphedema, while some survivors who had mastectomy with more than 10 lymph nodes removed have not," said Dr. Fu. "There is a critical need to understand heterogeneity of lymphedema phenotype in relation to assessment of lymphedema phenotype and related biological mechanism."

The study consisted of 136 women with a mean age of 52 with a first time diagnosis of breast cancer (Stage I-III), and were scheduled for surgical treatment of lumpectomy or mastectomy.

The researchers measured data at 4-8 weeks post-surgery and 12 months post-surgery to monitor development of lymphedema during this period. They used lymphedema phenotyping to measure more symptoms than the typical method of observing swelling and limb volume. The symptom phenotyping was important in indicating early stage lymphedema where limb volume cannot be assessed yet.

The researchers found that using symptom phenotyping, prior to surgery, only one participant had more than 8 symptoms and only 18 had 1-7 symptoms. At 4-8 weeks post-surgery all participants had at least one symptom, 53% had 1-7 symptoms, and 46% had more than 8 symptoms, whereas only 16% had arm lymphedema defined by limb volume increase. At 12 months post-surgery 26.5% had more than 8 symptoms and 63% reported 1-7 symptoms, whereas only 22.8% had arm lymphedema as defined by limb volume.

Additionally, prior to surgery, identification of symptom phenotypes was not feasible, as 86% of participants were symptom-free. However, at 4-8 weeks post-surgery 58.1% of participants were classified as the phenotype of impaired limb mobility, with 86% discomfort, and 55.9% fluid accumulation. At 12 months 55.2% of participants were classified as the phenotype of impaired limb mobility with 38.2% pain/discomfort, and 44.1% fluid accumulation.

This data found significant associations between genotypes related to several lymphatic and inflammatory genes and symptom phenotypes of impaired limb mobility, fluid accumulation, and pain/discomfort. The data further provides support for heterogeneity of lymphedema phenotypes, especially phenotype of symptom clusters based on biological mechanisms.

Dr. Fu notes that the sample size and only 12-month period of observation does put limitations on the study.

The evidence from the study supports that interventions to promote lymph fluid flow and optimize body mass index have demonstrated positive effects for phenotype of fluid accumulation. Additionally, this study underscores the need for further research and exploration to advance understanding.

"Precision assessment of heterogeneity of lymphedema phenotype and understanding the biological mechanism of each phenotype through exploration of inherited genetic susceptibility is a logical step for finding a cure for this chronic condition," said Dr. Fu. "Our research team has laid the foundation for, and shown the importance of, further studies on this topic. We hope it will help us gain a better understanding of lymphedema that will eventually lead to a cure."
Researcher Affiliations: Mei R. Fu a, d, Yvette P. Conley b, Deborah Axelrod c, d, Amber A. Guth c, d, Gary Yu a, Jason Fletcher a, David Zagzag e

A. NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, New York University, New York, NY, USA
B. School of Nursing, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
C. Department of Surgery, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA
D. NYU Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center, New York, NY, USA
E. Pathology and Neurosurgery, Division of Neuropathology, Microvascular and Molecular Neuro-Oncology Laboratory,
NYU Langone Medical Center,


This study was supported by the National Institute of Health (NINR Project # 1R21NR012288-01A and NIMHD Project #P60MD000538-03) and 2011 Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) Foundation/Breast Cancer Research Grant: Funded by the ONS Foundation through an unrestricted grant from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH and other funders. The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

About the NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing

NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing is a global leader in nursing education, research, and practice. It offers a Bachelor of Science with a major in Nursing, a Master of Science and Post-Master's Certificate Programs, a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and a Doctor of Philosophy in nursing research and theory development.

New York University

Related Breast Cancer Articles:

Does MRI plus mammography improve detection of new breast cancer after breast conservation therapy?
A new article published by JAMA Oncology compares outcomes for combined mammography and MRI or ultrasonography screenings for new breast cancers in women who have previously undergone breast conservation surgery and radiotherapy for breast cancer initially diagnosed at 50 or younger.
Blood test offers improved breast cancer detection tool to reduce use of breast biopsy
A Clinical Breast Cancer study demonstrates Videssa Breast can inform better next steps after abnormal mammogram results and potentially reduce biopsies up to 67 percent.
Surgery to remove unaffected breast in early breast cancer increases
The proportion of women in the United States undergoing surgery for early-stage breast cancer who have preventive mastectomy to remove the unaffected breast increased significantly in recent years, particularly among younger women, and varied substantially across states.
Breast cancer patients with dense breast tissue more likely to develop contralateral disease
Breast cancer patients with dense breast tissue have almost a two-fold increased risk of developing disease in the contralateral breast, according to new research from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer.
Some early breast cancer patients benefit more from breast conservation than from mastectomy
Breast conserving therapy (BCT) is better than mastectomy for patients with some types of early breast cancer, according to results from the largest study to date, presented at ECC2017.
One-third of breast cancer patients not getting appropriate breast imaging follow-up exam
An annual mammogram is recommended after treatment for breast cancer, but nearly one-third of women diagnosed with breast cancer aren't receiving this follow-up exam, according to new findings presented at the 2016 Annual Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons.
Low breast density worsens prognosis in breast cancer
Even though dense breast tissue is a risk factor for breast cancer, very low mammographic breast density is associated with a worse prognosis in breast cancer patients.
Is breast conserving therapy or mastectomy better for early breast cancer?
Young women with early breast cancer face a difficult choice about whether to opt for a mastectomy or breast conserving therapy (BCT).
Breast density and outcomes of supplemental breast cancer screening
In a study appearing in the April 26 issue of JAMA, Elizabeth A.
Full dose radiotherapy to whole breast may not be needed in early breast cancer
Five years after breast-conserving surgery, radiotherapy focused around the tumor bed is as good at preventing recurrence as irradiating the whole breast, with fewer side effects, researchers from the UK have found in the large IMPORT LOW trial.

Related Breast Cancer Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...