A study has reported that the incidence of lymphedema in male breast cancer patients 65 and over is similar to that of women with breast cancer. There are an estimated 200,000 new breast cancer cases each year in the U.S., of which approximately 1% are in men. Lymphedema (injury to the lymphatic system characterized by painful fluid retention and arm swelling) can be a devastating complication from breast cancer treatment. Lymphedema-related research normally is based on women and the findings extrapolated to men.
The current study included all 628 men 65 years and older diagnosed with breast cancer of any stage between 1998 and 2005 who were in the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Medicare database. The authors obtained data on Medicare claims related to lymphedema for the men to perform the analysis. Lymphedema-specific claims were defined as claims containing the word 'lymphedema' in the Medicare claim description; lymphedema-related claims were defined as treatments reimbursed for lymphedema but not necessarily containing the word 'lymphedema' in the Medicare claim description.
The cumulative incidence, adjusted for deaths, of lymphedema-specific claims at two years after diagnosis was 8.0%. The cumulative incidence at three years was 9.2%, at four and five years it was 10.5%. The cumulative incidence of lymphedema-related claims at two, three, four, and five years was 26.9%, 32.2%, 35.4%, and 39.8%, respectively. Rates for men were found to be similar to rates for women. The authors conclude that lymphedema is a common complication affecting men with breast cancer as well as women and appropriate treatment and rehabilitation strategies should be implemented for both genders.