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MU study identifies patient strategies for managing symptoms of lymphedema
Date:10/29/2008

COLUMBIA, Mo. An estimated 2 million women in the United States are at risk of developing lymphedema, a condition that involves the chronic and abnormal swelling of the arm, chest, neck and/or back, as a complication of breast cancer treatment. While physicians will recommend proven techniques to manage the swelling, a University of Missouri researcher has found that patients often won't follow the recommendations, or they will use alternative treatments and not discuss them with their doctors.

"Lymphedema has a profound impact on health and well-being, but often goes undiagnosed and untreated by physicians and patients," said Jane Armer, professor in the Sinclair School of Nursing and director of nursing research at the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. "Understanding the ways that people self-manage the chronic symptoms of lymphedema is essential to facilitate an improvement in the use of treatments and the quality of life of these people."

Armer surveyed breast cancer survivors with lymphedema about their practices for managing symptoms, including swelling and heaviness. She found the most common strategy was to not treat the symptom. For 12 out of 14 symptoms, patients reported taking no action 29 percent to 65 percent of the time. This finding is consistent with Armer's conclusions from a previous study.

"Considering the entire lymphedema population (not just breast cancer survivors), the percentage of patients who treat their symptoms is probably even lower," Armer said. "Data have shown that breast cancer survivors are more proactive in seeking information for self-care, and they are more likely to follow a daily self-care plan for lymphedema than those who developed lymphedema for a different reason."

Armer found that patients who choose to treat their symptoms use a variety of techniques, which can be divided into three main groups. The first group includes recommended management techniques, non-pharmaceutical str
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Contact: Emily Smith
SmithEA@missouri.edu
573-882-3346
University of Missouri-Columbia
Source:Eurekalert

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