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Lymphology. 2010 Mar;43(1):1-13.

Impact of lymphedema and arm symptoms on quality of life in breast cancer survivors.

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Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-6021, USA.


Lymphedema is one of many arm problems reported by breast cancer survivors. Understanding the impact of lymphedema on quality of life requires consideration that arm symptoms may occur with or without lymphedema. It was hypothesized that specific arm symptoms and pain, related or unrelated to lymphedema, would be more associated with quality of life outcomes than arm swelling. The relation of arm swelling and of arm symptoms and associated severity with a range of quality of life outcomes following breast cancer treatment was assessed in a diverse sample of 295 women, 141 of whom had a clinical diagnosis of lymphedema. Arm swelling (as defined by interlimb volume or circumference differences) and lymphedema severity (defined by Common Toxicity Criteria) were less correlated with quality of life than total number of arm symptoms and specific individual symptoms. Pain in the affected arm correlated with poor quality of life outcomes, regardless of arm swelling. When evaluating the impact of lymphedema on quality of life, arm swelling may not be as important as the total number and specific types of arm symptoms present, as these may be more informative about quality of life outcomes in survivors of breast cancer with and without lymphedema.

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