BACKGROUND: Lymphoscintigraphy has often been used for evaluating arm lymphatic dysfunction, but no optimal approach for quantification has so far emerged. We propose a quantifiable measure of lymphatic function that we applied in patients treated for breast cancer.
METHODS: Eleven patients, aged 34-68 years, with unilateral arm lymphedema following breast cancer treatment underwent bilateral lymphoscintigraphy using intradermal injection in both hands of technetium-99m-labeled human serum albumin and sequential 5 min imaging for 5 hours. The mean transit time (MTT) in the arms was calculated based on time activity curves generated from injection site and arm regions. Visual lymphedema scoring was performed based on dermal backflow and lymph node presence. Excess arm volume was calculated from circumference measurements.
RESULTS: The MTT (mean ± SD) was significantly longer in the lymphedema arm than in the normal arm: 60.1 ± 27.7 versus 5.4 ± 2.5 minutes (mean difference, 54.7 minutes; 95% confidence interval, 36.5-72.9 minutes; P < 0.0001). Patients with previous erysipelas infection had significantly longer MTT than other patients (mean difference, 43.7 minutes; 95% confidence interval, 18.6-68.7 minutes; P < 0.001). There was a positive correlation between MTT and excess arm volume (r = 0.64; P = 0.04) and number of lymph nodes removed (r = 0.65; P = 0.03) but no correlation between visual score and MTT.
CONCLUSION: Measurements of MTT were able to discriminate lymphedema from healthy arm and MTT correlated with relevant markers for lymphedema severity. We encourage further research using the MTT approach for monitoring lymphedema and evaluation of treatment response.