Wound drainage after axillary dissection for carcinoma of the breast

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Oct 20;2013(10):CD006823. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006823.pub2.


Background: Axillary dissection is commonly performed for breast carcinoma. It is uncertain whether insertion of a drain reduces complication rates.

Objectives: To assess the effects of wound drainage after axillary dissection for breast carcinoma on the incidence of postoperative seroma formation. Secondary outcome measures include the incidence of infection and length of hospital stay.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Wound and Breast Cancer Group's Specialised Registers (22 February 2013), MEDLINE (1950 to 22 February 2013), EMBASE (1966 to 22 February 2013), the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) and ClinicalTrials.gov (22 February 2013) for all prospectively registered and ongoing trials (22 February 2013). Reference lists of included studies were handsearched by two independent review authors to look for additional eligible trials.

Selection criteria: All randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing wound drainage versus no wound drainage in individuals after axillary dissection for the treatment of breast carcinoma were included. All disease stages were considered. Breast-conserving surgery and mastectomy were considered. Patients undergoing sentinel node biopsy without axillary dissection were not included. No limits were applied to language or study location. Two review authors independently determined the eligibility of each study.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently extracted data for each included study using a predesigned data extraction proforma and assessed risk of bias using The Cochrane Collaboration's 'Risk of bias' tool. Discrepancies were resolved by consensus discussion with a third review author. Dichotomous variables were analysed using a Mantel-Haenszel model to produce odds ratios (ORs). Continuous variables were analysed using an inverse variance model to produce a mean difference (MD).

Main results: Seven RCTs including 960 participants were identified. The quality of trials was generally low, with several studies at risk of selection bias, and no studies used blinding during treatment or outcome assessment. There was a high level of statistical variation between the studies, which therefore reduces the reliability of the evidence. The OR for seroma formation was 0.46 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.23 to 0.91, P = 0.03) in favour of a reduced incidence of seroma in participants with drains inserted. There was no significant difference in infection rates between drainage and no drainage groups (OR = 0.70; 95% CI 0.44 to 1.12, P = 0.14). The mean difference in length of hospital stay, reported in four trials consisting of 600 participants, was 1.47 days greater in the drained population (95% CI 0.67 to 2.28, P = 0.0003). A mean difference of 0.79 fewer postoperative seroma aspirations was found in the drained population (95% CI 1.23 to 0.35 fewer, P = 0.0004) in two trials including 212 participants. No significant difference in volume of seroma aspirations was reported (MD -19.44, 95% CI -59.45 to 20.57, P = 0.34) in three trials including 519 participants. No significant difference in the incidence of lymphoedema was noted (OR 2.31 favouring no drainage, 95% CI 0.47 to 11.37, P = 0.30), with only six instances reported in three trials of 360 participants, nor was any significant difference in the incidence of haematoma observed (OR 1.68, 95% CI 0.33 to 8.51, P = 0.53), with only five instances reported in two trials of 314 participants.

Authors' conclusions: There is limited quality evidence that insertion of a drain following axillary lymphadenectomy reduced the odds of developing a seroma and reduced the number of post-operative seroma aspirations. These benefits should be balanced against an increased length of hospital stay in the drained population.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Axilla
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Drainage / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymph Node Excision / adverse effects*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Seroma / etiology
  • Seroma / prevention & control*