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.
2. Tortora, GJ, Derrickson, B. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, 11th ed; 2006. New York: John Wiley & Sons.