Linfedema secondario al trattamento del cancro mammario: Possibilità di prevenzione diagnostica e terapeutica

Translated title of the contribution: Lymphedema secondary to breast cancer treatment: Possibility of diagnostic and therapeutic prevention

C. Campisi, F. Boccardo, A. Zilli, A. Maccio, F. Napoli, W. Ferreira Azevedo, E. Fulcheri, G. Taddei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We performed a prospective randomized study upon 50 patients who had undergone a breast cancer treatment, considering particularly the possibility of appearance of arm secondary lymphedema. The patients were divided in two groups of 25 patients each. In the 1st group, we performed only a clinical follow-up, whilst in the 2nd one, we used also lymphoscintigraphy. The aim of the study was to compare the incidence of arm secondary lymphedema in the two groups, and relate the data with those of the international literature, in order to identify diagnostic procedures indicative of the risk of development of lymphedema and find proper therapeutic preventive measures. It is certainty complex to foresee the appearance of arm lymphedema due to breast cancer treatment. No specific preventive therapeutic methods based upon particular diagnostic investigations were ever reported. Patients had undergone surgery and radiation for breast cancer in the period between April 1992 and June 1994, and controlled at over 5 years after operation. Upper limb lymphoscintigraphy was performed only in one of the two groups of 25 patients, before operation and, furthermore, after 1-3-6 months and 1-3 years from the treatment. Patients who presented lymphoscintigraphy alterations (dermal back flow, diffused or delayed transit of the tracer, etc.), before edema appeared clinically, underwent physical and rehabilitative therapy (bandages, manual lymphatic drainage, mechanical lymph drainage, elastic garments, etc.) and microsurgery (lymphatic-venous anastomoses at the arm), performed early (stages Ib and II) in patients not responsive to physical therapy. In the first group followed only clinically, secondary arm lymphedema occurred in 9 cases (36%), and appeared after a period variable from 1 week to 2 years (3-6 months averagely). In the second group, lymphoscintigraphy, performed preoperatively, permitted to find lymphatic impairment (absence of deltoid way, reduced axillary lymph nodal tracer uptake, delayed transit of the tracer) at the upper limb in 4 patients (15%). After breast cancer surgery, lymphoscintigraphy pointed out alterations of lymphatic circulation in 5 patients (20%) after 1 month, in other 6 cases (56%) at 6 months, other 5 (76%) after 1 year and 3 (88%) at 3 and 5 years. Physical preventive therapy performed in patients with positive lymphoscintigraphy, even before the clinical appearance of edema, allowed to find a clinically evident lymphedema only in 2 cases (8%). The last two patients underwent early (at stage Ib and II) microsurgical operation of lymphatic-venous anastomoses, with complete regression of edema and improved lymphatic drainage of the arm controlled by lymphoscintigraphy (appearance of preferential lymphatic pathways, absence of dermal back flow). Secondary arm lymphedema due to breast cancer treatment appears in 20-25% of cases till 35% when surgery is associated with radiotherapy. Lymphoscintigraphy allows to point out alterations of lymphatic drainage before the clinical appearance of edema. Preventive physical and rehabilitative measures allows to reduce the clinical appearance of lymphedema significantly. Microsurgical operation performed precociously, at the early stages of the disease, permits to obtain the complete regression of the pathology thanks to the repair of preferential lymphatic pathways before of fibrosclerotic tissural alterations occur, which cause progressive worsening of clinical conditions, together with recurrent attacks of acute lymphangitis.

Translated title of the contributionLymphedema secondary to breast cancer treatment: Possibility of diagnostic and therapeutic prevention
Original languageItalian
Pages (from-to)493-498
Number of pages6
JournalAnnali Italiani di Chirurgia
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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