Living With Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema: A Synthesis of Qualitative Research

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Purpose/Objectives: To describe the experience of female patients living with breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL) to gain a comprehensive understanding of this experience. The review is designed as a qualitative metasynthesis.

Data Sources: Electronic searches were conducted in MEDLINE®, CINAHL®, EMBASE, PsycINFO, and Social Sciences Citation Index. Articles were included where researchers used qualitative research methods and when a comprehensive description of methods and the study's findings were provided.

Data Synthesis: From 2,185 references, 13 articles were included. A total of 94 author and participant aggregations were extracted, qualitatively assessed, and assigned to one of 14 categories. Four themes relating to the experience of living with BCRL were identified: experience of everyday life, energy sapping, personal empowerment, and contribution of others.

Conclusions: Requirements of living with BCRL may only be influenced to a limited extent by the women themselves. They struggle with their situation, appearance, and the concomitant uncertainties. They feel strengthened where they succeed in developing a helpful view of their situation and where support structures are available to them.

Implications for Nursing: Professionals can employ this meta-synthesis by contextualizing it as part of a process of critical reflection on their own endeavors to meet the requirements of women living with BCRL.

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