Risk factors for breast cancer-related lymphedema: correlation with docetaxel administration



Upper-limb lymphedema is a well-known complication of breast cancer and its treatment. This retrospective cohort study aims to determine what risk factors affect breast cancer-related lymphedema in patients with breast cancer.


This retrospective study comprised patients diagnosed with breast cancer and who underwent surgery at Wakayama Medical University Hospital between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2018. Assessed factors using univariate and multivariate analyses were patient-related factors (age, gender, and BMI), breast cancer-related factors (tumor size, nodal status, histology, tumor location, and intrinsic subtype), and treatment-related factors (type of surgery, application, timing and regimen of chemotherapy, and application of radiotherapy).


This study included 1041 patients. BMI did not affect the onset of breast cancer-related lymphedema. There were only six sentinel lymph node biopsy cases in the breast cancer-related lymphedema group (6.6%). In cases of axillary lymph node dissection, adjuvant chemotherapy was marginally associated with increased risk of breast cancer-related lymphedema compared to no chemotherapy (HR 2.566; 95% CI 0.955–6.892; p = 0.0616). Among anti-cancer agents, docetaxel (HR 3.790; 95% CI 1.413–10.167; p = 0.0081) and anti-HER2 therapy (HR 2.507; 95% CI 1.083–5.803; p = 0.0318) were associated with increased risk of lymphedema according to multivariate analysis. Neo-adjuvant chemotherapy did not affect the onset of breast cancer-related lymphedema. Radiotherapy (HR 2.525; 95% CI 1.364–4.676; p = 0.0032) was an important risk factor for breast cancer-related lymphedema.


Axillary lymph node dissection, radiotherapy and adjuvant chemotherapy, especially docetaxel, were risk factors for breast cancer-related lymphedema, but BMI and neo-adjuvant chemotherapy were not.

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We acknowledge proofreading and editing by Benjamin Phillis at the Clinical Study Support Center at Wakayama Medical University.



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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Yuka Aoishi.

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Research Ethics and Patient Consent

The study was approved by the Wakayama Medical University Hospital Institutional Review Board (2818) and was conducted in accordance with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This study was retrospective, so according to committee procedures, study information was available at the site of the related facilities where it could be easily checked in lieu of using a consent form. Formal consent is not required for this type of study.

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Aoishi, Y., Oura, S., Nishiguchi, H. et al. Risk factors for breast cancer-related lymphedema: correlation with docetaxel administration. Breast Cancer 27, 929–937 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12282-020-01088-x

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  • Breast cancer
  • Breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL)
  • Axillary lymph node dissection
  • Docetaxel
  • Radiation