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Lymphedema Raises Cost of Breast Cancer Care
Date:3/17/2009

Painful swelling can require treatments for infections and depression

TUESDAY, March 17 (HealthDay News) -- In breast cancer survivors, lymphedema -- an uncomfortable swelling of the arm and wrist -- can be one of the most vexing side effects of treatment.

Now, a new study has found that women who develop lymphedema fare worse than women without the condition and have higher out-of-pocket medical costs after radiation and surgery.

Breast cancer survivors who develop lymphedema report a lower quality of life, higher levels of anxiety and depression, an increased likelihood of chronic pain and fatigue and greater difficulty functioning socially and sexually, according to a study in the March 16 online issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Lymphedema also boosted two-year, postoperative medical costs by $14,877 to $23,167, the study found. The additional cost came from office visits, treatments for infections and mental health services, including prescriptions for antidepressants.

One reason for higher out-of-pocket costs: Insurance companies don't always fully cover lymphedema treatments, which can include compression garments and specially trained therapists who provide massages and physical therapy to help the area drain, said Ya-Chen Tina Shih, an associate professor of health economics at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, and an author of the study.

Although federal regulations and about 21 states require private insurance to cover lymphedema treatments after mastectomies, the laws are not specific about what constitutes lymphedema treatment and insurance companies have wide latitude in determining benefit levels, Shih said.

"Right now, it's really up to insurance companies' interpretation for what is appropriate lymphedema treatment," Shih said.

Lymphedema is caused by a buildup of lymphatic fluid, usually as a result of damage
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