The relationship between morbidity after axillary surgery and long-term quality of life in breast cancer patients: the role of anxiety

Eur J Surg Oncol. 2011 Apr;37(4):344-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ejso.2011.01.016.


Aims: Although arm/shoulder morbidity after sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) and/or axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) has been studied before, information is lacking concerning self-imposed restrictions in activities and long-term consequences of both surgical procedures in relationship to quality of life (QoL) and anxiety.

Methods: Eighty-nine disease-free breast cancer survivors completed a set of questionnaires assessing arm/shoulder symptoms, limitations in daily life, anxiety and QoL. Also, the ipsi- and contra lateral arm circumference and the range of shoulder motion were measured.

Results: Fifty-one women had SLNB, 25 had SLNB followed by ALND and 13 had ALND. Although ALND patients experienced more shoulder symptoms, limitations in daily life and imposed more restrictions on themselves than SLNB patients, no significant differences during physical examination were found. A decreased range of motion and a higher score on trait anxiety resulted in a lower QoL. Trait anxiety and perceived limitations in daily life predicted long-term quality of life.

Conclusions: There is a discrepancy between experienced and measured limitations in range of shoulder motion. Anxiety and self-imposed restrictions play an important role in predicting long-term QoL and should get the necessary attention when addressing shoulder symptoms in breast cancer patients.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living* / psychology
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anxiety / etiology*
  • Arm / physiopathology
  • Axilla / surgery
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymph Node Excision / adverse effects
  • Lymph Node Excision / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Morbidity
  • Netherlands
  • Quality of Life*
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Shoulder Joint / physiopathology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires