The potential impact of breast cancer-related lymphedema (LE) is quite extensive, yet it often remains under-diagnosed until the later stages. This project examines the effectiveness of prospective surveillance in post-surgical breast cancer patients. A retrospective analysis of 49 out of 100 patients enrolled in a longitudinal prospective study at a Midwestern breast center evaluates: (1) time required for completion of bilateral limb measurements and Lymphedema Breast Cancer Questionnaire (LBCQ); (2) referral to LE management with limb volume increase (LVI) and/or LBCQ symptoms; and (3) cost of LE management at lower LVI (≥5%-≤10%) versus traditional (≥10%). Findings revealed a visit timeframe mean of 40.3 min (range = 25-60); 43.6% of visits were ≤30-min timeframe. Visit and measurement times decreased as clinic staff gained measurement experience; measurement time mean was 17.9 min (range = 16.9-18.9). LBCQ symptoms and LVI were significantly (p < 0.001) correlated to LE referral; six of the nine patients referred (67%) displayed both LBCQ symptoms/LVI. Visits with no symptoms reported did not result in referral, demonstrating the importance of using both indicators when assessing early LE. Lower threshold referral provides compelling evidence of potential cost savings over traditional threshold referral with reported costs of: $3755.00 and $6353.00, respectively (40.9% savings).
Keywords: cost; lymphedema; referral; surveillance.