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REVIEW ARTICLE
Year : 2015  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 77-83

Arm lymphedema after treatment of breast cancer: Etiology, diagnosis, and management


Department of Surgical Oncology, BLK Cancer Centre, New Delhi, India

Correspondence Address:
Ashish Goel
Department of Surgical Oncology, BLK Cancer Centre, New Delhi
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/2454-6798.173284

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Breast cancer related lymphedema (BCRL) is a chronic debilitating condition seen after treatment of breast cancer. The overall incidence varies from 20% to 56% in all patients treated for breast cancer. Every patient is at a lifelong risk for BCRL and the risk goes on increasing as the followup period increases. Locoregional treatment including surgery or radiotherapy is the most common risk factor for development of arm lymphedema. There are two phases of arm lymphedema. There is increased fluid accumulation in the fluid phase of lymphedema which later on goes into the solid phase where fat and fibrotic tissue is deposited in the subcutaneous tissue. The treatment of BCRL is a challenge both for the patient and the treating surgeon and it needs multidisciplinary team work to be successful. Non-surgical treatment modalities include complete decongestive therapy (CDT) and pneumatic compression therapy. Surgery for BCRL is usually undertaken as a salvage modality after failure of conservative approaches. The surgical spectrum for BCRL varies from extensive excisional operations which were commonly done in the past to newer methods like suction assisted protein lipectomy, lymphatic reconstruction and vascular lymph node transfer (VLNT) using super-microsurgical techniques. There is no consensus regarding the preference of one procedure over other due to lack of randomised control trials. It is however suggested to do lymphovenous anastomosis and complete decongestive therapy for early cases in fluid phase; while patients in the solid phase may be treated with a combination of liposuction with CDT or VLNT alone.


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