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Eur J Cancer. 2003 Oct;39(15):2168-72.

Is physical function a more appropriate measure than volume excess in the assessment of breast cancer-related lymphoedema (BCRL)?

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  • 1Cambridge Breast Unit, Addenbrookes Hospital, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2QQ, UK. amy.byrtus@addenbrookes.nhs.uk


The aim of this study was to objectively measure impairment of arm function in women with breast cancer-related lymphoedema (BCRL), and investigate possible associations between this, arm volume excess, and psychological morbidity as measured by the Medical Outcomes Study 36-item short form (SF-36) questionnaire. A total of 48 patients were recruited. Manual dexterity was significantly impaired in the affected arm, independent of dominant or non-dominant arm involvement, but was not associated with arm volume excess. Psychological morbidity was significantly impaired in the domains of 'physical function' and 'bodily pain' when compared with population controls. Degree of impairment in the 'physical function' domain correlated with the absolute level of objectively tested manual dexterity. Impairment of manual dexterity appears to have a greater impact than arm volume excess on the overall psychological morbidity associated with BCRL, suggesting that greater emphasis should be placed upon arm function in the assessment, treatment targeting, and monitoring of patients with this condition.

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