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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Effects of manual lymphatic drainage on breast cancer-related lymphedema: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

Tsai-Wei Huang1, Sung-Hui Tseng2, Chia-Chin Lin3, Chyi-Huey Bai4, Ching-Shyang Chen5, Chin-Sheng Hung5, Chih-Hsiung Wu67 and Ka-Wai Tam5789*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Nursing, College of Medicine and Nursing, HungKuang University, Taichung City, Taiwan

2 Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Taipei Medical University Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan

3 School of Nursing, Taipei Medical University, Taipei, Taiwan

4 School of Public Health, Taipei Medical University, Taipei, Taiwan

5 Division of General Surgery, Department of Surgery, Taipei Medical University Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan

6 Division of General Surgery, Department of Surgery, Taipei Medical University - Shuang Ho Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan

7 Department of Surgery, School of Medicine, College of Medicine, Taipei Medical University, Taipei, Taiwan

8 Graduate Institute of Clinical Medicine, College of Medicine, Taipei Medical University, Taipei, Taiwan

9 Center for Evidence-Based Medicine, Taipei Medical University, Taipei, Taiwan

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World Journal of Surgical Oncology 2013, 11:15  doi:10.1186/1477-7819-11-15

Published: 24 January 2013

Abstract

Background

Lymphedema is a common complication of axillary dissection for breast cancer. We investigated whether manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) could prevent or manage limb edema in women after breast-cancer surgery.

Methods

We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to evaluate the effectiveness of MLD in the prevention and treatment of breast-cancer-related lymphedema. The PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro), SCOPUS, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials electronic databases were searched for articles on MLD published before December 2012, with no language restrictions. The primary outcome for prevention was the incidence of postoperative lymphedema. The outcome for management of lymphedema was a reduction in edema volume.

Results

In total, 10 RCTs with 566 patients were identified. Two studies evaluating the preventive outcome of MLD found no significant difference in the incidence of lymphedema between the MLD and standard treatment groups, with a risk ratio of 0.63 and a 95% confidence interval (CI) of 0.14 to 2.82. Seven studies assessed the reduction in arm volume, and found no significant difference between the MLD and standard treatment groups, with a weighted mean difference of 75.12 (95% CI, −9.34 to 159.58).

Conclusions

The current evidence from RCTs does not support the use of MLD in preventing or treating lymphedema. However, clinical and statistical inconsistencies between the various studies confounded our evaluation of the effect of MLD on breast-cancer-related lymphedema.

Keywords:
Manual lymph drainage; Lymphedema; Breast cancer; Meta-analysis