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Assessment of External Lymphedema in Patients With Head and Neck Cancer: A Comparison of Four Scales

Jie Deng
Sheila H. Ridner
Mary S. Dietrich
Nancy Wells
Barbara A. Murphy
ONF 2013, 40(5), 501-506 DOI: 10.1188/13.ONF.501-506

Purpose/Objectives: To compare available grading and staging scales that measure external lymphedema in patients with head and neck cancer (HNC) and to assess problems and gaps related to these tools.

Design: Cross-sectional.

Setting: A comprehensive cancer center in Tennessee.

Sample: 103 participants post-HNC treatment.

Methods: Four scales were used to evaluate study participant external lymphedema status, including the Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events (CTCAE) Lymphedema Scale (version 3.0), American Cancer Society Lymphedema Scale, Stages of Lymphedema (Földi's Scale), and the CTCAE Fibrosis Scale (version 3.0).

Main Research Variables: Occurrence rate, severity of lymphedema, and components and descriptors of each scale.

Findings: The prevalence and severity of external lymphedema differed based on the tools. Each tool had an identified limitation. Current theory postulates a continuum between lymphedema and fibrosis, but only the Földi's Scale adequately reflected that concept.

Conclusions: None of the available scales clearly captured all the important characteristics of external lymphedema in patients with HNC. A need exists to develop a clearly defined and validated scale of external lymphedema in the HNC population.

Implications for Nursing: Oncology nurses should take an active role in addressing issues related to lymphedema assessment in patients post-HNC treatment; however, new assessment tools need to be developed for clinical use.

Knowledge Translation: Early identification and accurate documentation of head and neck lymphedema are critically important to prevent lymphedema progress. However, existing grading criteria failed to capture important characteristics of external head and neck lymphedema. More research efforts need to be made to address this under-recognized issue.


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