Radical Mastectomy and Arm Swelling

Due to the presence of breast cancer, Mrs. Franco had a right radical mastectomy in which her right breast and underlying muscle, right axillary lymph nodes and vessels were removed. Now she is experiencing swelling in her right arm Why did the surgeon remove lymph tissue as well as the breast? Why is Mrs. Franco’s right arm swollen?

Radical mastectomy is now rarely performed and only used in cases of extensive tumors or cancer cells that have invaded the chest wall (1). In this case, the cancer may have moved into lymph nodes under the arm and in the chest muscle.(2) The spread of the cancer would have occurred via metastasis, cells traveling through the lymph or blood and establishing new tumors wherever they lodge (3p811).

The right arm is swollen due to lymphedema, which is an accumulation of lymph in lymphatic vessels (3p841). If the swelling comes with tenderness and redness and she is feeling a fever come on, it is possible that infection may have occurred.(4) She should seek treatment immediately to not see symptoms worsen.

References

1. http://www.oncologychannel.com/mastectomy/index.shtml
2. Tortora, GJ, Derrickson, B. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, 11th ed; 2006. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
3. http://som.medselfed.com/asp/prodDisplay.asp?prodId=407&partnerId=som&id=&cachedate=
4. http://www.breastcancer.org/tips/lymphedema/avoid.jsp

Published by David Despain, MS, CFS

David is a science and health writer living on Long Island, New York. He's written for a variety of publications including Scientific American, Outside Online, the American Society for Nutrition's (ASN) Nutrition Notes Daily, and Institute of Food Technologists' (IFT) Food Technology magazine and Live! blog. He's also covered new findings reported at scientific meetings including Experimental Biology, AAAS, AOCS, CASW, Sigma Xi, IFT, and others on his personal blog "Evolving Health." David is also an active member of organizations including the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Society for Nutrition, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the National Audubon Society. David has a master's degree in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, and a bachelor's degree in English from University of Illinois at Springfield. He also earned his Certified Food Scientist credential from the Institute of Food Technologists.

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