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BACKGROUND: Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer amongst women worldwide, and one distressing complication of breast cancer treatment is breast and upper-limb lymphoedema. There is uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of surgical interventions in both the prevention and management of lymphoedema affecting the arm after breast cancer treatment. OBJECTIVES: 1. To assess and compare the efficacy of surgical interventions for the prevention of the development of lymphoedema (LE) in the arm after breast cancer treatment.2. To assess and compare the efficacy of surgical interventions for the treatment of established LE in the arm after breast cancer treatment. SEARCH METHODS: We searched the Cochrane Breast Cancer Group's Specialised Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, Embase, the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) and for all prospectively registered and ongoing trials on 2 November 2017. Reference lists of included studies were also handsearched by three review authors for additional eligible trials. SELECTION CRITERIA: All randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing a surgical intervention for the prevention or treatment of lymphoedema of the arm after breast cancer treatment to either standard intervention, placebo intervention, or another surgical intervention were included. Patients of both sexes and all ages who have had treatment for their breast cancer were considered. No limits were applied to language or study location. Three authors independently determined the eligibility of each study. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Three authors independently extracted data for each included study using a pre-designed data extraction pro forma and used Cochrane's 'risk of bias' tool for assessing risk of bias. Dichotomous variables were analysed using the Mantel-Haenszel method to estimate risk ratios (RRs). Differences in continuous variables were expressed as mean differences (MDs). GRADE was used to assess the certainty of the evidence provided by the included studies. MAIN RESULTS: Two studies involving 95 participants examined surgical interventions for preventing breast cancer-related lymphoedema. Both studies evaluated the efficacy of the lymphaticovenular anastomosis technique as part of a preventative management protocol. Both studies were deemed to be at unclear risk of bias overall. Statistical variation between the studies was low, which increases the reliability of the evidence. However, the two studies were conducted in the same centre. Lymphaticovenular anastomosis appears to result in a reduction in the incidence of lymphoedema compared to nonoperative management with a risk ratio of 0.20 (95% CI 0.06 to 0.63, P = 0.006; 95 participants; low-certainty evidence). The RCTs did not evaluate any of the secondary outcomes.One study involving 36 participants evaluated the effectiveness of vascularised lymph node transfer for treating breast cancer-related lymphoedema. The trial was deemed to be at unclear risk of bias. For participants suffering from stage 2 lymphoedema, the evidence suggested reductions in limb volume (MD -39.00%, 95% CI -47.37% to -30.63%, very low-certainty evidence), pain scores (MD -4.16, 95% CI -5.17 to -3.15, very low-certainty evidence), heaviness sensation (MD -4.27, 95% CI -5.74 to -2.80, very low-certainty evidence), mean number of infections/year (MD -1.22, 95% CI -2.00 to -0.44, very low-certainty evidence), and an improvement in overall function scores (MD -3.77, 95% CI -4.89 to -2.65, very low-certainty evidence) for those who had undergone vascularised lymph node transfer compared to those who had undergone no treatment. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is low-certainty evidence that lymphaticovenular anastomosis is effective in preventing the development of lymphoedema after breast cancer treatment based on the findings from two studies. One study providing very low-certainty evidence found that vascularised lymph node transfer is an efficacious option in the treatment of established stage 2 lymphoedema related to breast cancer. Important secondary outcomes in this review were rarely reported in the included studies. More high-quality RCTs are required to further elucidate the effectiveness of surgical interventions in the prevention and treatment of lymphoedema after breast cancer treatment. At the time of this review, no ongoing trials on this topic were identified.

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Journal article


Cochrane Database Syst Rev

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Anastomosis, Surgical, Arm, Breast Neoplasms, Female, Humans, Lymphatic Vessels, Lymphedema, Postoperative Complications, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic, Reproducibility of Results, Venules