Delayed Breast Reconstruction on Patients with Upper Extremity Lymphedema: A Systematic Review of the Literature and Pooled Analysis

Charalampos Siotos, Aladdin H. Hassanein, Ricardo J. Bello, Mohamad E. Sebai, Stella M. Seal, Michele A. Manahan, Damon S. Cooney, Carisa M. Cooney, Gedge D. Rosson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background Breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL) is a debilitating condition with morbidity, hindered quality of life, and increased health-related costs. Experimental studies support the use of musculocutaneous flaps for managing animal models with lymphedema. Although vascularized lymph node transfer (VLNT) and lymphovenous anastomosis are used to surgically treat patients with lymphedema, it is not known whether musculocutaneous or adipocutaneous flaps (eg, delayed autologous breast reconstruction) are effective for treating refractory upper extremity BCRL. We conducted a systematic review and pooled analysis to assess the impact of delayed breast reconstruction on developed BCRL. Methods Following PRISMA guidelines, we systematically searched PubMed, Scopus, EMBASE, and Google Scholar databases for relevant studies published through November 11, 2016. We screened 934 unique articles. Of these, we conducted full-text and reference screening on 37 articles. We then performed a pooled and sensitivity analysis using random effects. Results Eight studies met our inclusion criteria. One study was a case report; 7 studies were case series with sample sizes ranging from 3 to 38 patients. According to our pooled analysis 58% of patients reported improvement after breast reconstruction with or without VLNT. Sensitivity analysis revealed that 84% (95% confidence interval, 0.74-0.95) of patients who underwent breast reconstruction and VLNT reported improvement, whereas only 22% (95% confidence interval, 0.12-0.32) of those who had breast reconstruction alone reported improvement. Conclusions Our review summarizes the current evidence regarding the effect of delayed breast reconstruction on established lymphedema. The VLNT component of the autologous breast reconstruction procedures may be the largest contributing factor leading to lymphedema improvement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)730-735
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of plastic surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


  • breast cancer
  • breast reconstruction
  • lymphedema
  • pooled analysis
  • systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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