Refractory Lymphedema and Complications
If lymphedema is massive and refractory to treatment, or has an onset several years after the primary surgery without obvious trauma, a search for other etiologies should be undertaken. Of particular importance is exclusion of the recurrence of tumor or the development of lymphangiosarcoma, which should be excluded with computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging. The complication of lymphangiosarcoma is classically seen in the postmastectomy lymphedematous arm (Stewart-Treves syndrome). The mean time between mastectomy and lymphangiosarcoma is 10.2 years, with a median survival of 1.3 years. Clinically, the lesions of lymphangiosarcoma may initially appear as blue-red or purple with a macular or papular shape in the skin. Multiple lesions are common; subcutaneous nodules may appear and should be carefully evaluated in the patient who has chronic lymphedema.
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