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A meta-analysis of the efficacy of vascularised lymph node transfer in reducing limb volume and cellulitis episodes in patients with cancer treatment-related lymphoedema

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Joseph Ward, Ian King, Maria Monroy-Iglesias, Beth Russell, Mieke van Hemelrijck, Kelvin Ramsey, Aadil A. Khan

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-244
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Journal of Cancer
PublishedJul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: The authors acknowledge the bibliographic support of ICR and Royal Marsden libraries. We also thank the Royal Marsden and Institute of Cancer Research NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for their on-going support of our clinical research. Publisher Copyright: © 2021 Elsevier Ltd Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

King's Authors


Background: Lymphoedema after cancer treatment is a chronic and disabling complication that presents a significant health care burden during survivorship with limited treatment options. Vascularised lymph node transfer (VLNT) can reconstruct lymphatic flow to reduce limb volumes, but limited higher-order evidence exists to support its effectiveness. Aim: The aim of the study was to systematically review and meta-analyse the effectiveness of VLNT in reducing upper limb (UL) or lower limb (LL) volume and cellulitis episodes in patients with cancer treatment–related lymphoedema (CTRL). Methods: PubMed, Medline (Ovid) and Embase databases were searched between January 1974 and December 2019. Full-length articles where VLNT was the sole therapeutic procedure for CTRL, reporting volumetric limb, frequency of infection episodes and/or lymphoedema-specific quality-of-life data, were included in a random-effects meta-analysis of circumferential reduction rate (CRR). Methodological quality was assessed using STROBE/CONSORT, and a novel, lymphoedema-specific scoring tool was used to assess lymphoedema-specific methodological reporting. Sensitivity analyses on the site of VLNT harvest and recipient location were performed. Results: Thirty-one studies (581 patients) were eligible for inclusion. VLNT led to significant limb volume reductions in UL (above elbow pooled CRRs [CRRP] = 42.7% [95% confidence interval (CI): 36.5–48.8]; below elbow CRRP = 34.1% [95% CI: 33.0–35.1]) and LL (above knee CRRP = 46.8% [95% CI: 43.2–50.4]; below knee CRRP = 54.6% [95% CI: 39.0–70.2]) CTRL. VLNT flaps from extra-abdominal donor sites were associated with greater volume reductions (CRRP = 49.5% [95% CI: 46.5–52.5]) than those from intra-abdominal donor sites (CRRP = 39.6% [95% CI: 37.2–42.0]) and synchronous autologous breast reconstruction/VLNT flaps (CRRP = 32.7% [95% CI: 11.1–54.4]) (p < 0.05). VLNT was also found to reduce the mean number of cellulitis episodes by 2.1 episodes per year (95% CI: −2.7– −1.4) and increased lymphoedema-specific quality-of-life scores (mean difference in Lymphoedema-Specific Quality of Life (LYMQOL) “overall domain” = +4.26). Conclusions: VLNT is effective in reducing excess limb volume and cellulitis episodes in both UL and LL lymphoedema after cancer treatment. However, significant heterogeneity exists in outcome reporting, and standardisation of reporting processes is recommended.

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