Self-reported arm and shoulder problems in breast cancer survivors in Sub-Saharan Africa: the African Breast Cancer-Disparities in Outcomes cohort study

Breast Cancer Res. 2021 Nov 24;23(1):109. doi: 10.1186/s13058-021-01486-9.


BACKGROUND: Arm and shoulder problems (ASP), including lymphedema, were common among women with breast cancer in high-income countries before sentinel lymph node biopsy became the standard of care. Although ASP impair quality of life, as they affect daily life activities, their frequency and determinants in Sub-Saharan Africa remain unclear.

METHODS: All women newly diagnosed with breast cancer at the Namibian, Ugandan, Nigerian, and Zambian sites of the African Breast Cancer-Disparities in Outcomes (ABC-DO) cohort study were included. At each 3-month follow-up interview, women answered the EORTC-QLQ-Br23 questionnaire, including three ASP items: shoulder/arm pain, arm stiffness, and arm/hand swelling. We estimated the cumulative incidence of first self-reported ASP, overall and stratified by study and treatment status, with deaths treated as competing events. To identify determinants of ASP, we estimated cause-specific hazard ratios using Cox models stratified by study site.

RESULTS: Among 1476 women, up to 4 years after diagnosis, 43% (95% CI 40-46), 36% (33-38) and 23% (20-25), respectively, self-reported having experienced arm/shoulder pain, stiffness and arm/hand swelling at least once. Although risks of self-reported ASP differed between sites, a more advanced breast cancer stage at diagnosis, having a lower socioeconomic position and receiving treatment increased the risk of reporting an ASP.

CONCLUSION: ASP are very common in breast cancer survivors in Sub-Saharan Africa. They are influenced by different factors than those observed in high-income countries. There is a need to raise awareness and improve management of ASP within the African setting.

PMID:34819118 | PMC:PMC8611842 | DOI:10.1186/s13058-021-01486-9