Quantitative and morphologic change associated with breast cancer-related lymphedema. Comparison of 3.0T MRI to external measures

Gregory C. Gardner, Joshua P. Nickerson, Richard Watts, Lee Nelson, Kim L. Dittus, Patricia J. O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Introduction: Lymphedema is a chronic disease of increasing importance to cancer survivors. A tape measurement tool used for lymphedema relies on indirect volume calculations based on external circumference, which may not reflect the true extent of abnormal fluid accumulation accurately. Fluid-sensitive MRI sequences may be able to delineate the severity of this condition more precisely and thus also monitor response to therapy. Methods and Results: Eight patients being followed by physical therapy for clinically diagnosed breast cancer-related lymphedema were recruited to participate in this study. External measurements and upper extremity MRI were performed on all subjects. Arm circumference, arm volume, and lymphedema volumes were calculated for each method. MR imaging detected lymphedema in all study subjects. Correlation was found between external circumferential measurements and with the 3.0T MRI (r=0.9368). There was poor correlation between lymphedema volumes calculated from clinical measurements and MR imaging (r=0.5539). Conclusions: External measurements were not found to be an accurate measure of lymphedema volume associated with breast cancer lymphedema. MRI is a reliable means to obtain upper extremity circumferential and volume measurements. MRI is able to evaluate morphologic change associated with breast cancer-related lymphedema. Lymphedema research requires integrated use of tools to further describe the disease process over time, quantitate the distribution of tissue changes, and improve the sensitivity and specificity of the measurements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-102
Number of pages8
JournalLymphatic Research and Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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