Incidence, predictive factors, and prognosis for winged scapula in breast cancer patients after axillary dissection

Support Care Cancer. 2014 Jun;22(6):1611-7. doi: 10.1007/s00520-014-2125-3. Epub 2014 Feb 4.


Purpose: Axillary lymph node dissection is part of breast cancer surgery, and winged scapula is a possible sequela. Data regarding its incidence, predictive factors, and patient prognosis remains inconsistent. Ignorance of its diagnosis may lead to undertreatment with physical morbidity.

Methods: Breast cancer patients with axillary lymph node dissection were prospectively recruited. Postoperative examinations by the physiotherapy staff were performed.

Results: One hundred eighty-seven patients were recruited during July-October 2012; 51 patients had a positive diagnosis (27.2 %), with 38 patients (86 %) who recovered completely from the winged scapula, while 6 patients (13 %) still had winged scapula at 6 months after surgery. One hundred thirty patients underwent mastectomy and 100 cases had immediate reconstruction. Age, BMI, previous shoulder joint morbidity, and breast surgery were not associated with winged scapula. Neoadjuvant treatment, mastectomy or conservative surgery, immediate reconstruction, tumor size, and nodal involvement also did not show any correlation. Breast reconstruction with prosthesis, even with serratus muscle dissection, does not increase the incidence of winged scapula.

Conclusion: Winged scapula is not an uncommon incidence after breast cancer surgery. Physiotherapy is related to the complete recovery. The severity or grading of the winged scapula and the recovery time after physiotherapy should be investigated in the future studies.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Axilla
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Lymph Node Excision / adverse effects*
  • Lymph Node Excision / methods
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Lymph Nodes / surgery*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Scapula / pathology*
  • Scapula / surgery