, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 421-431

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

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Abstract

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?

Methods

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.

Results

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.

A complete list of Supportive Care Guidelines Group members is available at: http://www.cancercare.on.ca/access_1222.htm.
This work is presented on behalf of the members of the Supportive Care Guidelines Group of Cancer Care Ontario’s Program in Evidence-based Care. A complete list of the members is available at http://www.cancercare.on.ca/access_1222.htm.