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Age Differences in Post–Breast Cancer Lymphedema Signs and Symptoms

Armer, Jane PhD, RN; Fu, Mei R. PhD, RN


This secondary data analysis was designed to explore the age differences in lymphedema (LE) occurrence and self-reported symptoms in post–breast cancer LE. A descriptive-exploratory cross-sectional design was used with a convenience sample composed of 102 women treated and followed for breast cancer at a midwestern cancer center. Sequential circumferential arm measurement was used to estimate limb volume differences. Self-reported symptoms were assessed by the Lymphedema and Breast Cancer Questionnaire (LBCQ) designed and tested by the research team. Lymphedema occurrence was relatively higher (41.2%) in breast cancer survivors younger than 60 than in those older than 60 (30.6%). Six subjectively reported symptoms were found to occur more often (P ≤ .05) in the younger women with LE: numbness now and in the past year, tenderness in the past year, aching now and in the past year, increased temperature in arm now. Numbness, tenderness, and aching were the most prevalent symptoms among women in both age groups regardless of LE presence. Our findings suggest that younger breast cancer survivors may have increased LE risk and report LE-related symptoms more often. Future research should focus on age differences in LE risk, occurrence, and perceptions of LE-related symptoms in women treated for breast cancer.

MU Sinclair School of Nursing, University of Missouri – Columbia and Nursing Research, Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, Columbia, Mo (Dr Armer); and the Division of Nursing, New York University (Dr Fu).

Corresponding author: Jane Armer, PhD, RN, DC 116.05 EFCC 408, University of Missouri – Columbia, Columbia, MO 65211 (e-mail:

Analyses of a portion of these data were presented previously: Armer JM, Fu M. Age differences in post-breast cancer lymphedema signs and symptoms. Paper presented at: 5th International National Lymphedema Network Conference; August 2002; Chicago, Ill.

This research was funded in part by MU Research Council, Meredith Baxter Products, Sigma Theta Tau Alpha Iota chapter, and MU Sinclair School of Nursing. The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of present and former members of the Lymphedema Research team: Michael C. Perry, MD; Richard Madsen, PhD; Marge Whitman, MS(N), AOCN; Karen Wingert, MA, DPT, RN; Ashley Sherman, MS; Deanna Schoenherr, MS(N), RN; Cynthia Woodcock, MS(N), RN; David Ota, MD; Kevin Lin, MD; and Steven Standiford, MD. In addition, the authors gratefully acknowledge the review of a prepublication draft of this article and editorial suggestions by Dr Bob Stewart.

Accepted for publication March 5, 2005.

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.