Background: Breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL) is common and has significant impact on quality of life. Very little is known about BCRL in sub-Saharan Africa. Generally, BCRL has been mostly evaluated post treatment, with very limited data on the prevalence of pre-treatment BCRL at baseline. This study presents the prevalence and clinical associations of lymphedema among newly diagnosed, treatment-naive breast cancer patients in a Nigerian cohort using bioimpedance estimations.
Methods: Consecutively consenting, newly diagnosed, treatment-naive breast cancer patients were assessed for upper limb lymphedema using bioimpedance measurements of the extracellular fluid and the single-frequency bioelectrical impedance analysis value at 5 kHz. Patients were classified as having lymphedema if there was >10% difference in arm measurements or if the ratios of the arm measurements were >3 SD above a normative mean generated from representative controls. Regression analysis was performed to determine clinical variables associated with lymphedema.
Results: There were 154 breast cancer patients with a median age of 47 (40.0–56.8) years and a body mass index of 27 (23.5–30.9) kg/m2. The majority (70%) had stage III disease. All measurements were significantly higher in cases than controls. Using various definitions, the prevalence of lymphedema was between 11.7% and 14.3%. Various clinical variables relating to clinical stage were significantly associated with lymphedema.
Conclusion: The predominance of locally advanced disease in the Nigerian setting is associated with high pre-treatment lymphedema rates. This may set the stage for higher rates in the post-operative setting. Management of lymphedema should be incorporated into the treatment planning.