In the state of Missouri, women under 65 years old and below 250% of the federal poverty guideline are eligible for breast cancer screening and services through the state’s Show Me Healthy Women and Missouri HealthNet (Medicaid) programs. However, this coverage does not extend to breast cancer-related lymphedema.
These women cannot obtain services that prevent lymphedema, or compression sleeves to treat the condition, even though it is very often caused by breast cancer surgery.
Dr. Sarah Gehlert, E. Desmond Lee Professor of Racial and Ethnic Diversity at the Brown School of Social Work, and Dr. Lesley Turner, Instructor in Physical Therapy and Orthopaedic Surgery, responded to this need by creating a short video series for women who have recently developed lymphedema and need instruction on how to care for their condition. Local survivors of breast cancer participated in the videos, and provided their time and expertise throughout the creation of the series.
The video series was informed by the senior honors thesis of Gina Phillips, a participant in the 2014 Summer Research Program in Global Health through the Institute for Public Health. Gina explored the breast cancer treatment delay and illness experiences of African-American women in the eight St. Louis zip codes with the highest breast cancer mortality rates. She found that women with breast cancer-related lymphedema had little to no access to treatment services for this condition. African-American women with breast cancer are also more likely to develop lymphedema.
Each video provides accessible, relevant, and low-cost ideas for lymphedema prevention and care. DVDs of the video series are currently being created to distribute to women at risk of breast cancer-related lymphedema.
Funding for the project was provided by Sista Strut through Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University.