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Overview of Surgical Treatments for Breast Cancer–Related Lymphedema

Suami, Hiroo M.D., Ph.D.; Chang, David W. M.D.

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: December 2010 - Volume 126 - Issue 6 - p 1853-1863
doi: 10.1097/PRS.0b013e3181f44658
Breast: Scientific Review

Summary: Breast cancer–related upper extremity lymphedema is an unsolved iatrogenic complication with a reported incidence ranging from 9 to 41 percent. The increase in volume and recurrent cellulitis of the affected limb cause both physical and mental distress to many breast cancer survivors. However, postmastectomy lymphedema has received little attention, and no curative treatment is available. Conservative treatment with decongestive therapy has been the primary choice for lymphedema treatment, but it is cumbersome and has limited benefits. To date, there is no consensus on surgical procedure and protocol. However, refinements in microsurgical techniques and improved examination devices may lead to the establishment of a standard surgical treatment for lymphedema. This review of surgical procedures for the treatment of postmastectomy lymphedema focuses on microsurgical lymphovenous shunt operations and discusses current issues in surgical treatment and the need for uniform treatment standards.

Houston, Texas

From the Department of Plastic Surgery, University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Received for publication October 20, 2009; accepted May 26, 2010.

Presented in part at the 88th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons, in Rancho Mirage, California, March 21 through 24, 2009.

Disclosure: The authors have no source of financial or other support or any financial or professional relationships that might pose a competing interest.

Hiroo Suami, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Plastic Surgery, Unit 443, University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Boulevard, Houston, Texas 77030-4009,

©2010American Society of Plastic Surgeons