, Volume 21, Issue 7, pp 2017-2024
Date: 24 Feb 2013

Lymphedema: experience of a cohort of women with breast cancer followed for 4 years after diagnosis in Victoria, Australia

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Abstract

Purpose

The aim of this work was to study the incidence and prevalence of self-reported lymphedema in breast cancer survivors between 2 and 4 years following diagnosis, the factors associated with the development of lymphedema and the impact of lymphedema on psychological well-being.

Methods

We assessed self-reported lymphedema in the BUPA Health Foundation Health and Wellbeing After Breast Cancer Study, a questionnaire-based study of 1,683 women newly diagnosed with their first episode of invasive breast cancer in Victoria, Australia. Psychological well-being was assessed using the Psychological General Well-being Index.

Results

Two years after diagnosis, nearly 20 % of women reported lymphedema and this proportion remained above 18 % 2 years later. However, self-reported lymphedema was a dynamic phenomenon, with the condition resolving in some women and others reporting onset for the first time up to 4 years from diagnosis. Lymphedema 2 years from diagnosis was positively associated with the number of nodes removed at initial surgery, although this variable only explained a small proportion of the likelihood of reporting lymphedema. The presence of lymphedema was associated with lower psychological general well-being.

Conclusions

Lymphedema after breast cancer treatment frequently has a dynamic pattern and may emerge as an issue for women several years after their initial treatment. It is associated with a lower level of general well-being.