Review Article

Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 421-431

First online:

The treatment of lymphedema related to breast cancer: a systematic review and evidence summary

  • Lyn KligmanAffiliated withPain and Symptom Management Team, Supportive Care Program, London Regional Cancer Centre
  • , Rebecca K. S. WongAffiliated withDepartment of Radiation Oncology, Princess Margaret Hospital Email author 
  • , Mary JohnstonAffiliated withCancer Care Ontario Program in Evidence-Based Care, McMaster University
  • , Nancy S. LaetschAffiliated withCancer Care Ontario Program in Evidence-Based Care, McMaster University
  • , Members of the Supportive Care Guidelines Group of Cancer Care Ontario’s Program in Evidence-based Care

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Goals of work

To provide an evidence summary report on the question: What are the treatment options for women with lymphedema following treatment for breast cancer?


Cancer Care Ontario’s Supportive Care Guidelines Group (SCGG) employed systematic review methodology to produce an evidence summary on this topic. Evidence-based opinions were formulated to guide clinical decision making, and a formal external review process was conducted to validate the relevance of these opinions for Ontario practitioners.


The systematic review search strategy identified ten randomized controlled trials which form the basis of this evidence summary report. Four key opinions offered by the SCGG are outlined below. Responses from the practitioner feedback process supported the validity of these opinions in Ontario. (1) There is some evidence to suggest that compression therapy and manual lymphatic drainage may improve established lymphedema, but further studies are needed. Compression garments should be worn from morning to night and be removed at bedtime. Patients should be advised that lymphedema is a lifelong condition and that compression garments must be worn on a daily basis. Patients can expect stabilization and/or modest improvement of edema with the use of the garment in the prescribed fashion. (2) There is no current evidence to support the use of medical therapies, including diuretics. (3) Additional efforts to define relevant clinical outcomes for the assessment of patients with lymphedema would be valuable. (4) These opinions are appropriate for patients with more than mild lymphedema, where the signs and symptoms are considered significant from the patients’ perspective.


Lymphedema Breast neoplasms Systematic review Evidence summary Lymphedema management