King's College London

Research portal

The clinical effectiveness of decongestive treatments on excess arm volume and patient-centered outcomes when provided to women with early breast cancer-related arm lymphedema: systematic review

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-506
JournalJBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation reports
Issue number2
Early online date1 Feb 2018
Accepted/In press11 Oct 2017
E-pub ahead of print1 Feb 2018


King's Authors


Lymphedema is a common consequence of breast cancer treatment requiring life-long treatment to reduce symptoms and prevent complications. Evidence to inform the optimal decongestive lymphedema treatment package is lacking.
To identify the effect of decongestive lymphedema treatment on excess arm volume or patient-centered outcomes for women presenting within either 12 months or mean 9 months of developing arm lymphedema following breast cancer treatment.
Inclusion criteria
Types of participants: women who received lymphedema treatment within either 12 months or mean 9 months of developing unilateral breast cancer-related arm lymphedema.
Types of intervention: any decongestive lymphedema treatment delivered with the purpose of reducing arm lymphedema, compared to another form of lymphedema treatment (whether self or practitioner-administered), placebo or no treatment.
Types of outcomes: clinical outcome was excess arm volume; patient-centered outcomes were health-related quality of life, arm heaviness, arm function, patient-perceived benefit and satisfaction with treatment.
Types of studies: experimental study designs were eligible, including randomized and non-randomized controlled trials, quasi-experimental, prospective and retrospective before and after studies.
Search strategy
A three-step search strategy was utilized to find published and unpublished studies. The search identified studies published from inception of each database to 6th July 2016. Reference lists were scanned to identify further eligible studies.
Methodological quality
Studies were critically appraised using appropriate standardized critical appraisal instruments from The Joanna Briggs Institute.
Data extraction
Details describing each study and treatment results regarding outcomes of interest were extracted from papers included in the review using appropriate standardized data extraction tools from The Joanna Briggs Institute.
Data synthesis
Due to heterogeneity in included studies, results for similar outcome measures were not pooled in statistical meta-analysis. A narrative and tabular format was used to synthesize results from identified and included studies.
Seven studies reporting results for outcomes of interest were critically appraised and included in the review: five randomized controlled trials and two descriptive (uncontrolled) studies. Reported outcomes included excess arm volume (five studies), health-related quality of life (three studies), arm heaviness (one study), arm function (two studies) and patient-perceived benefit (two studies). There was some evidence that decongestive treatments were effective for women presenting within either 12 months or mean 9 months of developing breast cancer-related arm lymphedema, but the wide range of data prevented comparison of treatment findings which limited our ability to answer the review questions.
Weak evidence (grade B) for the impact of decongestive lymphedema treatment on women with early lymphedema (i.e. less than 12 months duration of BCRL symptoms) did not allow any conclusions to be drawn about the most effective treatment to be offered when these women first present for treatment. Findings provided no justification to support change to current practice.
Future primary research needs to focus on the most effective treatment for women when they first present with lymphedema symptoms, e.g. treatment provided within 12 months of developing symptoms. Studies should be adequately powered and recruit women exclusively with less than 12 months duration of BCRL symptoms, provide longer follow-up to monitor treatment effect over time, with comparable treatment protocols, outcome measures and reporting methods.

Download statistics

No data available

View graph of relations

© 2020 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454