Cormier, J.N., Rourke, L., Crosby, M., Chang, D., & Armer, J. (2012). The surgical treatment of lymphedema: A systematic review of the contemporary literature (2004-2010). Annals of Surgical Oncology, 19(2), 642–651.doi: 10.1245/s10434-011-2017-4
To examine peer-reviewed literature evaluating the surgical treatment of lymphedema
Findings were grouped according to the type of procedure: excisional (8 studies, 4 involving liposuction), lymphatic reconstruction (8 studies of lymphatic venous anastomosis [LVA]), and tissue transfer (4 studies involving lymph node transfer, stromal cell transplant, lymphatic tissue transplant, and lymph node transplant). Reduction in lymphedema volume was greatest after excisional procedures (91.1%). Lymphatic reconstruction was associated with 54.9% reduction, and tissue transfer with 47.6% reduction. Overall, surgical procedures did not appear to eliminate the need for compression therapy. Follow-up duration and methods of lymphedema measurement varied substantially across studies. Quality scores for studies ranged from 2–12 across all procedure types and tended to vary considerably within surgery type grouping as well. Studies were done in both upper and lower extremities, though most LVAs were done in lower extremities. The majority of studies did not comment on postoperative complications. Authors noted that a growing body of evidence supports the use of surgical procedures for prevention of lymphedema.
Evidence related to the effectiveness of various surgical procedures for lymphedema is somewhat limited, and the ability to generalize findings also is limited given the wide variation in study quality, sample sizes, measurement methods, and lack of long-term follow up information. Surgical procedures have not been shown to eliminate the need for ongoing conventional therapies for lymphedema.
This review is limited by a lack of full information on search results, with consort type of flow charting, lack of information about disease types, and patient characteristics.
Results of surgical procedures appear to show some promise for reducing lymphedema volumes. However, current evidence is too limited to generalize and more information is needed regarding postoperative complications or long-term results. Surgical intervention has not been shown to eliminate the need for ongoing conservative and conventional interventions as well.