Objective Assessment of Axillary Morbidity in Breast Cancer Treatment

Kakuda, James T.; Stuntz, Michael
October 1999
American Surgeon;Oct1999, Vol. 65 Issue 10, p995
Academic Journal
Historically, axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) was a critical aspect of the operative management of breast cancer. Recently, the role of ALND has been questioned, with postoperative morbidity possibly overshadowing patient benefit. Our objective was to quantitatively assess the long-term morbidity of ALND in patients with breast cancer. We conducted a cross-sectional study of patients being followed by the Breast Surgery Clinic at a university-affiliated urban hospital. Ninety-five patients with unilateral breast cancer who had undergone ALND were evaluated at routine follow-up visits in the latter half of 1998. A questionnaire was used to quantify the degree of subjective findings, including arm swelling, chest wall pain, decreased mobility, and weakness. Upper extremity strength, active range of motion, and circumference were measured. Overall, 70 per cent of patients had at least one complaint, with 18 per cent having moderate to severe symptoms. Twenty-one per cent had notable decrements in strength or range of motion, 9.3 per cent of patients required chronic compression garments for lymphedema, and 6.4 per cent changed their vocational status because of surgical morbidity. We conclude that adverse effects from ALND occur commonly. Objective findings are less common, perhaps causing clinicians to underappreciate postoperative morbidity. A significant subset of patients had enduring disability.


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