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Lymphoedema and reduced shoulder function as indicators of quality of life after axillary lymph node dissection for invasive breast cancer. BJS 2003; 90: 76-81.

Published: 8th January 2003

Authors: A. C. Voogd, J. M. M. A. Ververs, A. J. J. M. Vingerhoets, R. M. H. Roumen, J. W. W. Coebergh, M. A. Crommelin et al.

Background

The aim was to explore measurements of arm circumference and shoulder abduction as indicators of quality of life after axillary lymph node dissection for invasive breast cancer.

Method

Differences in arm circumference and shoulder abduction were measured in 465 consecutive women who underwent axillary lymph node dissection. These women received a treatment‐specific questionnaire on the severity of physical disability and the effects on their daily life and well‐being.

Results

The questionnaire was returned by 400 women (86 per cent). Of these 400, only the 332 women who did not receive axillary radiotherapy were included in the analysis. Their mean time since axillary lymph node dissection was 4·2 (range 0·3–28) years. For 86 patients (26 per cent) there was a difference in arm circumference of 2 cm or more, or a difference in abduction of 20° or more. These patients found it more difficult to do household chores, were more likely to have given up hobbies, felt more disabled and were more likely to be treated by a physiotherapist. However, complaints also occurred among the women with smaller differences in arm circumference and shoulder abduction, although the frequency and severity of their complaints were similar to those in women without swelling of the arm or without restricted shoulder abduction.

Conclusion

Measuring arm circumference and shoulder abduction during control visits identifies only some of the women whose daily life and well‐being is affected by the side‐effects of axillary lymph node dissection. Copyright © 2003 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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