Current Treatments for Breast Cancer-Related Lymphoedema: A Systematic Review

Breast cancer-related lymphoedema (BCRL) is a disabling complication with long term impact on quality on life after breast cancer treatment. Its management remains a major challenge for patients and health care professionals; the goal of this overview was to summarize effects of different treatment strategies for patients with BCRL.

A thorough search was undertaken to allow a systematic review or meta-analysis of treatments for BCRL. Two investigators independently selected studies and abstracted the data. Results: Combined physical therapy (CPT) with different combinations of surgery, oral pharmaceuticals, low-level laser therapy, weight reduction, mesenchymal stem cell therapy, kinesio tex taping, and acupuncture might be effective in reducing lymphoedema, but exercise demonstrated no obvious benefit. The results of direct comparisons showed CPT might be more effective than standard physiotherapy (ST). Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) may not offer additional benefits to ST for swelling reduction, but could facilitate compression bandaging. MLD seemed to have similar effects with self-administered simple lymphatic drainage (SLD) or using an intermittent pneumatic compression pump (IPC). IPC might also not be associated with additional effectiveness for CPT. Efficacy of stem cell therapy vs. compression sleeve or CPT, as well as the effects of daflon and coumarin could not be established.

Although many treatments for BCRL might reduce lymphoedema volume, their effects were not well established. The quality of many of the original studies in the included reviews was not optimal, so that in future randomized control trials are a high priority.