Eighteen Sensations After Breast Cancer Surgery: A Two-Year Comparison of Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy and Axillary Lymph Node Dissection

Roberta H. Baron

Jane V. Fey

Patrick I. Borgen

Kimberly J. Van Zee

ONF 2004, 31(4), 691-698. DOI: 10.1188/04.ONF.691-698

Purpose/Objectives: To evaluate the prevalence, severity, and level of distress of 18 sensations at baseline (3-15 days) and 24 months after breast cancer surgery and to compare sensations after sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) with those after SLNB plus immediate or delayed axillary lymph node dissection (ALND).

Design: Prospective, descriptive.

Setting: Evelyn H. Lauder Ambulatory Breast Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, NY.

Sample: 294 women with breast cancer; 214 had undergone breast conserving therapy, and 80 had undergone total mastectomy; 197 had had SLNB, and 97 had had SLNB and ALND.

Methods: Patients completed the Breast Sensation Assessment Scale© (BSAS©) at baseline and 3, 6, 12, and 24 months after surgery.

Main Research Variables: Prevalence, severity, and level of distress of sensations in patients who had undergone breast cancer surgery.

Findings: Sensations were less prevalent, severe, and distressing in patients undergoing SLNB than those undergoing ALND. This difference appeared to be limited to those undergoing breast conserving therapy. Most sensations after SLNB and ALND, even if prevalent, were not very severe or distressing. Some sensations persisted as long as two years. These included tenderness after SLNB and numbness after ALND. Patients often reported phantom sensations after total mastectomy.

Conclusions: Overall, prevalence, severity, and level of distress were lower after SLNB compared to ALND, but some morbidity existed after SLNB. Certain sensations remained prevalent in both groups for as long as 24 months.

Implications for Nursing: Nurses can use information from this study to provide more accurate education and support to patients.

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