Background: Despite recent advances in breast cancer treatment, breast cancer related lymphedema (BCRL) continues to be a significant problem for many survivors. Some BCRL risk factors may be largely unavoidable, such as mastectomy, axillary lymph node dissection (ALND), or radiation therapy. Potentially avoidable risk factors unrelated to breast cancer treatment include minor upper extremity infections, injury or trauma to the arm, overuse of the limb, and air travel. This study investigates how providing information about BCRL affects the cognitive and symptomatic outcome of breast cancer survivors.
Methods: Data were collected from 136 breast cancer survivors using a Demographic and Medical Information interview instrument, a Lymphedema Education Status interview instrument, a Knowledge Test for cognitive outcome, and the Lymphedema and Breast Cancer Questionnaire for symptom outcome. Data analysis included descriptive statistics, t tests, chi-square (chi(2)) tests, and regression.
Results: BCRL information was given to 57% of subjects during treatment. The mean number of lymphedema-related symptoms was 3 symptoms. Patients who received information reported significantly fewer symptoms and scored significantly higher in the knowledge test. After controlling for confounding factors, patient education remains an additional predictor of BCRL outcome. Significantly fewer women who received information about BCRL reported swelling, heaviness, impaired shoulder mobility, seroma formation, and breast swelling.
Conclusions: Breast cancer survivors who received information about BCRL had significantly reduced symptoms and increased knowledge about BCRL. In clinical practice, breast cancer survivors should be engaged in supportive dialogues so they can be educated about ways to reduce their risk of developing BCRL.