Upper extremity function and quality of life in patients with breast cancer related lymphedema

Vojnosanit Pregl. 2016 Sep;73(9):825-30. doi: 10.2298/VSP150208075B.


Background/aim: Upper limb lymphedema is one of the most frequent chronic complications after breast cancer treatment with a significant impact on the upper extremity function and quality of life (QoL). The aim of this study was to estimate health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in patients with breast-cancer-related lymphedema and its correlation with upper limb function and the size of edema.

Methods: The cross-sectional study included 54 breast-cancer-related lymphedema patients. The quality of life was evaluated by the Short Form 36-Item Health Survey (SF-36). Upper limb function was assessed by the Quick Disability of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand questionnaire (Quick DASH). The size of lymphedema was determined by the arm circumference.

Results: The higher HRQoL score was assessed for mental health (47.0 ± 12.2) than for physical one (42.2 ± 7.5). The highest values of SF-36 were found in the domains of Mental Health (67.7 ± 22.9) and Social Function (70.1 ± 23.1). The lowest scores were registered in the domains of Role Physical (46.9 ± 39.1) and General Health (49.3 ± 20.1). Upper extremity function statistically significantly correlated with the domains Role Physical, Bodily Pain and Physical Composite Summary and also, with the domain Role Emotional (p < 0.01). There was no statistically significant correlation between size of lymphedema and tested domains of quality of life (p > 0.05).

Conclusions: Physical disability in patients with breast cancer-related lymphedema influences quality of life more than mental health. Upper limb function has a significant impact on quality of life, not only on the physical, but also on the mental component. The presence of breast-cancer-related lymphedema certainly affects upper limb function and quality of life, but in this study no significant correlation between the size of edema and quality of life was found.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Cost of Illness
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Lymph Node Excision / adverse effects*
  • Lymphedema / diagnosis
  • Lymphedema / etiology*
  • Lymphedema / physiopathology
  • Lymphedema / psychology
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life*
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Upper Extremity / physiopathology*