Lymphedema in women with breast cancer: characteristics of patients screened for a randomized trial
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INTRODUCTION: Accrual rates for a randomized trial of decongestive therapy in breast cancer patients with lymphedema were lower than anticipated. In two centres, patients presenting to lymphedema clinic were screened for eligibility to understand the accrual process and help define the patient population. MATERIALS AND METHODS: All breast cancer patients presenting to two lymphedema clinics in regional cancer centres were screened for study entry. Circumferential arm measurements were taken and volumes calculated. Patients were then screened for trial eligibility. All report forms were sent to the trial coordinating centre. RESULTS: A total of 408 patients were screened. Median arm volume excess was 239 ml (9.5%). One third of patients had little or no excess volume. Only 28.3% of patients had sufficient excess volume for trial eligibility. Of these, a significant number of patients were excluded because of active malignancy or previous decongestive therapy. CONCLUSIONS: The finding of moderate to severe lymphedema observed in clinics screening for trial eligibility was less than expected. The natural history of lymphedema in breast cancer patients is potentially changing. Some patients may be presenting with sensory changes suggestive of lymphedema but due to other causes, such as nerve disruption following axillary dissection.
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