, Volume 64, Issue 3, pp 275-286

Long-Term Morbidity Following Axillary Dissection in Breast Cancer Patients – Clinical Assessment, Significance for Life Quality and the Impact of Demographic, Oncologic and Therapeutic Factors

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Abstract

Objective. This study describes in detail the surgery-related symptoms following axillary lymph node dissection in breast cancer patients and considers both their significance for long term quality of life and the impact of possible influencing factors.

Material and methods: Three hundred and ninety six patients were studied retrospectively using a self-report questionnaire and a clinical examination. The symptoms, numbness, pain, edema, arm strength and mobility were evaluated. The subjective assessment of the degree of symptom intensity was compared with objective measurements. The extent of surgery (number of resected nodes, level of dissection) as well as the influence of demographic, oncologic and adjuvant measures (age, time interval, number of involved nodes, chemotherapy) were evaluated.

Results. Shoulder-arm morbidity and fear of cancer recurrence were the most important long-term sources of distress following breast cancer surgery in our study population. Demographic, oncologic and therapeutic measures including the extent of surgery had no influence on long-term morbidity. The intensity of all evaluated symptoms was reported to be more severe in patients' subjective statements than in the results of clinical assessment.

Conclusion. Shoulder-arm morbidity following axillary dissection is a frustrating polysymptomatic disease that seems to be relatively unaffected by therapeutic measures. The surgical trauma necessary for adequate tumor staging (removal of 10 lymph nodes) seems decisive for the postsurgery syndrome following axillary dissection. For node-positive patients complete axillary clearing may improve tumor control without worsening long-term-morbidity. New techniques, such as the sentinel-node-biopsy, that selects patients with negative axillary status while preserving the integrity of axillary structures, may improve the overall morbidity.