OBJECTIVES - The aim of this study was to compare quality of life and symptoms between breast cancer survivors who have developed and undergone treatment for chronic lymphedema with those who have not developed lymphedema.
PATIENTS AND METHODS - The cross-sectional, mixed-methods design included 64 breast cancer survivors with lymphedema and 64 breast cancer survivors without lymphedema. Variables assessed quantitatively included sociodemographic information, medical data, body mass index (BMI), arm extracellular fluid volume, quality of life (QOL), and physical and emotional symptoms. For the qualitative component, individuals with lymphedema responded in writing to the question: During the past week what other difficulties have you experienced because of your lymphedema?
RESULTS - Compared with those without lymphedema, breast cancer survivors with lymphedema reported poorer QOL. A symptom cluster that included alteration in limb sensation, loss of confidence in body, decreased physical activity, fatigue, and psychological distress was identified. Perception of limb size influenced the cumulative symptom experience more than objective arm volume. Qualitative data revealed multiple QOL, physical health, and psychological concerns. BMI correlated with multiple outcomes.
CONCLUSIONS - Findings suggest that current lymphedema treatments, although beneficial, may not provide complete relief of symptoms associated with lymphedema and complementary interventions are needed. The poorer QOL in breast cancer survivors with lymphedema may relate to the presence of an untreated symptom cluster.