Lymphoedema is a common complication of breast cancer treatment, affecting approximately a quarter of patients. Those affected can have an uncomfortable, unsightly and sometimes functionally impaired limb prone to episodes of superficial infection. The aetiology, pathophysiology and management of these patients is poorly understood.
This is a systematic review of all published literature on lymphoedema following treatment for breast cancer, using the Medline and Cinahl databases with cross-referencing of major articles on the subject up to the end of 1999.
Results and Conclusion
The aetiology and pathophysiology of lymphoedema in patients with breast cancer appear to be multifactorial and are still not fully understood. Although conservative treatment techniques can be very successful in controlling symptoms, they do not afford a cure. The place of surgical and pharmacological therapy remains unclear. Improved understanding of the pathophysiology may assist in reducing the incidence of this condition, or help to identify those at greatest risk, in whom early initiation of conservative treatment measures may prove effective. © 2000 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd