BACKGROUND: Lymphedema treatment is an ongoing challenge. It impacts quality of life due to pain, loss of range of motion of the extremity, and repeated episodes of cellulitis. Different modalities have been used to evaluate lymphedema; some are more error-prone and some are more invasive. However, these measurements are poorly standardized, and intrarater and interrater reliabilities are difficult to achieve. This pilot study aims to assess the feasibility of ultrasound vibroelastography for assessing patients with extremity lymphedema via measuring shear wave speeds of subcutaneous tissues. METHODS: Patients with clinical and lymphoscintigraphic diagnosis of secondary lymphedema in the extremities without prior surgical treatment were included. A 0.1-s harmonic vibration was generated at three frequencies (100, 150, and 200 Hz) by the indenter of a handheld shaker on the skin. An ultrasound probe was used for noninvasively capturing of wave propagation in the subcutaneous tissue. Wave speeds were measured in the subcutaneous tissues of both the control and affected extremities. RESULTS: A total of 11 female patients with secondary lymphedema in the extremities were enrolled in this study. The magnitudes of the wave speeds of the region of interest in the subcutaneous tissue at lymphedema sites in the upper extremity (3.9 ± 0.17 m/s, 5.96 ± 0.67 m/s, and 7.41 ± 1.09 m/s) were statistically higher than those of the control sites (2.1 ± 0.27 m/s, 2.93 ± 0.57 m/s, and 3.56 ± 0.76 m/s) at 100, 150, and 200 Hz (P < 0.05), and at 100 and 200 Hz (P < 0.05) between lymphedema (4.33 ± 0.35 m/s, 4.17 ± 1.00 m/s, and 4.56 ± 0.37 m/s) and controls sites (2.48 ± 0.43 m/s, 2.77 ± 0.55 m/s, and 3.06 ± 0.29 m/s) in the lower extremity. CONCLUSIONS: These preliminary data suggest that ultrasound vibroelastography may be useful in the evaluation of secondary lymphedema and can be a valuable tool to noninvasively track treatment progress.
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