Background: This cross-sectional and longitudinal study of breast cancer survivors (BCSs) examines the associations between arm/shoulder problems (ASPs), which consist of pain, restricted mobility and lymphedema, and different aspects of quality of life (QoL).
Methods: BCSs who had breast surgery, axillary lymph node dissection and radiotherapy (n = 255) were examined in 2004 (mean 4.1 years post-surgery) and a sub-sample (n = 187) was re-examined in 2007. ASPs was rated clinically in 2004 and by self-report (EORTC BR23) in 2004 and 2007. QoL was self-reported with The Short Form-36 (SF-36) and The Impact of Cancer scale (IOC).
Results: In 2004 BCSs with ASPs showed significantly poorer mean scores in most SF-36 domains compared to those without. No group differences were observed for positive IOC domains, while BCSs with ASPs showed significantly poorer mean scores in the negative ones. BCSs with clinically defined movement restriction showed significantly poorer SF-36 and negative IOC mean scores than those with clinically defined lymphedema. The longitudinal sub-study of self-rated pain, restricted mobility and lymphedema showed significant changes over time only for negative IOC domains in the pain group. Self-rated restricted mobility and lymphedema were significantly associated with most SF-36 domains both in 2004 and 2007, while few were associated with pain. Self-rated pain and restricted mobility showed significant associations with negative IOC domains.
Implications for cancer survivors: Not only lymphedema, but pain and restricted mobility in the arm/shoulder are significantly associated with poor QoL in BCSs at long-term. These problems should be diagnosed and treated in order to improve QoL.