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3D Imaging Measures Volume Changes in Swollen Arms

For women with breast cancer-related lymphedema, 3D imaging could be a convenient alternative to submerging swollen arms in water.

Meeri Kim, Contributor
Wednesday, October 24, 2018


A common side effect of breast cancer treatment is lymphedema, which occurs when the surgical removal of lymph nodes or other kinds of therapy affects the normal workings of the lymphatic system. Lymph, a watery fluid that typically transports nutrients and waste throughout the body, instead builds up in the tissues and causes painful swelling.

Monitoring of lymphedema in the arm is often performed with simple water displacement to measure the arm's changing volume, but this method can be time-consuming and physically hard on the patient. In a new study, a team of researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands explores the possibility of using a commercial 3D imaging system instead. The imaging system has six color cameras positioned in a triangular configuration to fully capture each section of the arm. The results were published in October by Lymphatic Research and Biology.

The participants were 37 women with unilateral breast cancer-related lymphedema who completed both 3D imaging and water displacement methods on both arms. For the water displacement method, patients bent over and slowly immersed their hand in a water basin, while another container caught the overflow. For 3D imaging, they stood in front of the system and held their arms up horizontally as the cameras captured images. Volumes were measured twice by each method.

The researchers compared the average volumes measured by 3D imaging versus water displacement, and found very high correlations for both the healthy arms (0.996) and arms with lymphedema (0.998). In addition, 3D imaging showed excellent reliability for repeated measurement of patients' arms. They conclude that 3D imaging is a safe, reliable and valid alternative method for measuring volume changes due to lymphedema over time.