A prospective observational cohort study examining the development of head and neck lymphedema from the time of diagnosis

Asia Pac J Clin Oncol. 2022 Sep 13. doi: 10.1111/ajco.13843. Online ahead of print.


INTRODUCTION: Head and neck lymphedema can occur in the internal or external structures of the head and neck region. Little is known about the development of this condition over the course of treatment for head and neck cancer. This study aimed to observe the development of internal and external lymphedema from diagnosis to 12 weeks postacute treatment.

METHODS: A single center, prospective observational cohort study assessed participants for external lymphedema, internal lymphedema, quality of life, and symptom burden. Assessments were conducted prior to starting radiotherapy (RT), at the end of RT, 6 and 12 weeks after RT.

RESULTS: Forty-six participants were recruited. External lymphedema as measured by percentage water content, increased from 41.9 at baseline (95% CI: 39.3-44.4) to 50.4 (95% CI: 46.0-54.8) at 12 weeks following RT (p-value < .001). After adjusting for changes in weight and participant age at baseline, a general increase in tape measurements was observed over time with significant increases from baseline to 12 weeks post-RT for all measurement points. By 12 weeks post-RT, all participants had lymphedema present in eight of 13 internal sites assessed.

CONCLUSIONS: Internal and external head and neck lymphedema was observed to increase from baseline to 12 weeks after completion of RT without abatement. People with head and neck cancer should be educated about the potentially extended duration of this treatment side effect. Further research is required to determine the point at which swelling symptoms recede.

PMID:36101931 | DOI:10.1111/ajco.13843

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