App Successfully Detects Lymphedema in Breast Cancer Patients

By Kaitlyn D’Onofrio - Last Updated: March 17, 2020

An estimated 20% of breast cancer patients develop lymphedema, which causes swelling of the arms. Researchers recently assessed the value of an app to detect and monitor lymphedema.

In addition to physical adverse effects, lymphedema can also negatively impact a patient’s mental health and result in high financial costs.

“The most immediate awful consequence of lymphedema is seen in mental health. Severe depression is very high,” said study author Brandon Dixon, PhD, an associate professor in Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, in a press release. “If you detect it early, managing it could cost as little as $2,500 in a patient’s lifetime. If you catch it too late, the costs can rise as high as $200,000.”

Lymphedema is a common and harmful condition, Dr. Dixon noted: “Lymphedema is under-researched, so we don’t know directly how it may lead to deadly health conditions, but there are more cases than AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease combined, and it diminishes patients’ health.”

The present study was published in the March issue of Physical Therapy.

New Technology Assesses Lymphedema

The LymphaTech 3D Imaging System (LymphaTech) was tested on a group of patients with stage I to IV breast cancer with lymphedema or at high-risk for developing lymphedema. A total of 66 patients underwent arm volume measurement using the LymphaTech and perometer methods; 30 patients were included for test-retest reliability for a single measure, limb volume difference, and agreement between methods.

Intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs) were ≥0.99 for LymphaTech and perometer methods; both methods had “nearly identical” standard errors of measurement. The between-limb volume difference for both methods. ICCs and standard errors of measurement were similar for the between-limb volume difference for both techniques. Upon convergent validity analyses, no systematic between-method differences were observed.

The study authors noted that in addition to the similar outcomes obtained between LymphaTech and perometer, LymphaTech  may offer financial and ease of use advantages. LymphaTech is portable and can be used via an iPhone or iPad, and the required camera attachment costs about $400, making it a less bulky and costly option than the perometer.

With its good outcomes and convenience, Dr. Dixon hopes that LymphaTech can finally help address gaps in lymphedema care.

“The real battle has been to convince a medical market that has not much cared about lymphedema in the past or sought solutions to care,” he said. “Hopefully, the high accessibility of our solution will make it easier to care.”

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