Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

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Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery:
doi: 10.1097/PRS.0b013e3181f44658
Breast: Scientific Review

Overview of Surgical Treatments for Breast Cancer–Related Lymphedema

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

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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.

©2010American Society of Plastic Surgeons


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