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Lymphology. 2010 Dec;43(4):178-87.

Prevalence of upper-body symptoms following breast cancer and its relationship with upper-body function and lymphedema.

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School of Public Health, Faculty of Health, Queensland University of Technology, Queensland, Australia.


This investigation describes the prevalence of upper-body symptoms in a population-based sample of women with breast cancer (BC) and examines their relationships with upper-body function (UBF) and lymphedema, as two clinically important sequelae. Australian women (n=287) with unilateral BC were assessed at three-monthly intervals, from six to 18 months post-surgery (PS). Participants reported the presence and intensity of upper-body symptoms on the treated side. Objective and self-reported UBF and lymphedema (bioimpedance spectroscopy) were also assessed. Approximately 50% of women reported at least one moderate-to-extreme symptom at 6- and at 18-months PS. There was a significant relationship between symptoms and function (p < 0.01), whereby perceived and objective function declined with increasing number of symptoms present. Those with lymphedema were more likely to report multiple symptoms, and presence of symptoms at baseline was associated with an increased risk of lymphedema (ORs > 1.3, p = 0.02), although presence of symptoms explained only 5.5% of the variation in the odds for lymphedema. Upper-body symptoms are common and persistent following breast cancer and are associated with clinical ramifications, including reduced UBF and increased risk of developing lymphedema. However, using the presence of symptoms as a diagnostic indicator or prognosticator of lymphedema has its limitations.

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