Breast Cancer and Lymphedema: A Narrative Review
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed worldwide, and the leading cause of cancer death in women. The understanding of disease presentation by patients and health care providers is crucial for a correct diagnosis and management. Preventive measures emphasize risk-reducing behaviors such as a healthy diet, reduced alcohol consumption, increased physical activity, and breastfeeding children. Screening techniques such as mammography, ultrasound, and MRI aid in early detection. Following the screening, a breast biopsy is performed, and a histopathological assessment is carried out to confirm a breast cancer diagnosis. In addition to surgery, radiotherapy, and lifestyle modifications, treatment regimens include a range of medications such as anti-hormonal drugs and chemotherapy. Lymphedema is a severe and major long-term consequence of breast cancer treatment. The major contributors to the diminished lymph drainage are a lumpectomy/mastectomy procedure that involves the surgical removal of lymph nodes, and radiotherapy. The fluid accumulation of lymphedema poses physical limitations to the patient and impacts the overall quality of life. A sentinel lymph node biopsy is an essential method of identifying the first draining lymph nodes affected by metastasis. This procedure allows surgeons to later remove only affected lymph nodes, sparing those that are unaffected and hence reduce the risk and magnitude of lymphedema development. Patients who receive education about lymphedema demonstrate higher compliance with treatment and self-care management practices. The purpose of this review is to provide information about breast cancer, the development of lymphedema, and how to recognize and manage both.
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