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Axillary surgery and radiotherapy are important aspects of breast cancer treatment associated with development of lymphedema. Studies demonstrate that Lymphatic Microsurgical Preventive Healing Approach (LYMPHA) may greatly reduce the incidence of lymphedema in high-risk groups. The objective of this study is to summarize the evidence relating lymphedema incidence to axillary lymph node dissection (ALND), regional lymph node radiation (RLNR) therapy, and LYMPHA.
We performed a literature search to identify studies involving breast cancer patients undergoing ALND with or without RLNR. Our primary outcome was the development of lymphedema. We analyzed the effect of LYMPHA on lymphedema incidence. We chose the DerSimonian and Laird random-effects meta-analytic model owing to the clinical, methodological, and statistical heterogeneity of studies.
Our search strategy yielded 1476 articles. After screening, 19 studies were included. Data were extracted from 3035 patients, 711 of whom had lymphedema. The lymphedema rate was significantly higher when RLNR was administered with ALND compared with ALND alone (P < 0.001). The pooled cumulative incidence of lymphedema was 14.1% in patients undergoing ALND versus 2.1% in those undergoing LYMPHA and ALND (P = 0.029). The pooled cumulative incidence of lymphedema was 33.4% in those undergoing ALND and RLNR versus 10.3% in those undergoing ALND, RLNR, and LYMPHA (P = 0.004).
Axillary lymph node dissection and RLNR are important interventions to obtain regional control for many patients but were found to constitute an increased risk of development of lymphedema. Our findings support that LYMPHA, a preventive surgical technique, may reduce the risk of breast cancer–related lymphedema in high-risk patients.

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