A Review of Treatment for Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema: Paradigms for Clinical Practice

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Abstract

Objectives:

Breast cancer–related lymphedema (BCRL) represents a major complication of breast cancer treatment, impacting the quality of life for breast cancer survivors that develop it. The purpose of this review is to evaluate the literature surrounding BCRL treatment modalities to guide clinicians regarding risk-stratified treatment options.

Methods:

A review of studies over a 10-year period (January 2006 to February 2016) was performed. Noninvasive strategies evaluated included compression therapy, manual lymphatic drainage, and complex decongestive therapy (CDT). Invasive modalities evaluated included liposuction and lymphatic bypass/lymph node transfer (LNT). Our search yielded 149 initial results with 45 studies included.

Results:

A number of prospective studies have found that CDT is associated with volume reduction in the affected limb as well as improved quality of life, particularly in patients with early stage BCRL. With regards to invasive treatment options, data support that lymphatic bypass and LNT are associated with symptomatic and physiologic improvements, particularly in patients with more advanced BCRL. In addition, a small number of studies suggest that liposuction may be an efficacious and safe treatment for moderate to severe BCRL.

Conclusions:

CDT is an effective treatment modality for early stage BCRL. For more advanced BCRL, LNT has demonstrated efficacy. Further study is required with respect to comparing BCRL treatment modalities.

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