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Lymphedema Following Breast Cancer: Regions Affected, Severity of Symptoms, and Benefits of Treatment From the Patients' Perspective

Robyn Sierla
Teresa Sze Mun Lee
Deborah Black
Sharon Lynn Kilbreath
CJON 2013, 17(3), 325-331 DOI: 10.1188/13.CJON.325-331

Limited high-quality research has focused on the efficacy of lymphedema treatments and symptomatic relief. With that in mind, the authors conducted a cross-sectional survey to describe the presentation of breast cancer-related lymphedema, treatment modalities used, and perceived effectiveness. An electronic validated questionnaire to assess the presentation of lymphedema, severity of swelling and discomfort, number of modalities tried, and the benefits gained from treatment was completed by the Review and Survey Group of the Breast Cancer Network of Australia. Thirty-five percent of participants reported the presence of lymphedema, a majority of which reported it to be mild or moderate for magnitude of swelling and for discomfort. The correlation was weak between magnitude of swelling and discomfort. Compression, massage, and exercise were the most commonly used modalities in these patients. Notably, chest wall or breast lymphedema—about which research is lacking—was as common as hand lymphedema. Women experienced discomfort and physical changes, although the severity of the two was not related. Some benefit was reported for all modalities, but no particular modality was considered extremely helpful. Oncology nurses are ideally positioned to monitor women for early signs of swelling and to advise women on the range of treatments available.

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