A new study has reported that pre-surgical obesity may be a risk factor for lymphedema, whereas subsequent weight gain does not appear to heighten the risk of late-onset lymphedema.

The study was designed to investigate the influence of obesity and weight increases after surgery on the development of lymphedema. The authors conducted the study by analyzing data collected from 138 women with breast cancer in a previous longitudinal study. Arm volumes were measured at baseline when the women were newly diagnosed with breast cancer and had not yet received any treatment. Additional measurements were taken up to 30 months after surgery.

Study participants with body mass index (BMI) of at least 30 at the beginning of breast cancer treatment were approximately 3.6 times more likely to develop lymphedema at the six month point or later than those with a BMI under 30. However, women who experienced an increase in BMI (including an increase to 30 or greater) during the first 30 months of survivorship were not found to be more likely to develop late-onset lymphedema than those who did not have increases in BMI.