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, 19 (1), 985

A New Indocyanine Green Fluorescence Lymphography Protocol for Identification of the Lymphatic Drainage Pathway for Patients With Breast Cancer-Related Lymphoedema


A New Indocyanine Green Fluorescence Lymphography Protocol for Identification of the Lymphatic Drainage Pathway for Patients With Breast Cancer-Related Lymphoedema

Hiroo Suami et al. BMC Cancer.


Background: Breast cancer related lymphoedema (BCRL) is a common side effect of cancer treatment. Recently indocyanine green (ICG) fluorescent lymphography has become a popular method for imaging the lymphatics, however there are no standard protocols nor imaging criteria. We have developed a prospective protocol to aid in the diagnosis and therapeutic management of BCRL.

Methods: Lymphatic imaging procedures were conducted in three phases. Following initial observation of spontaneous movement of ICG in phase one, manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) massage was applied to facilitate ICG transit via the lymphatics in phase two. All imaging data was collected in phase three. Continuous lymphatic imaging of the upper limb was conducted for approximately an hour and lymphatic drainage pathways were determined. Correlations between the drainage pathway and MD Anderson Cancer Centre (MDACC) ICG lymphoedema stage were investigated.

Results: One hundred and three upper limbs with BCRL were assessed with this new protocol. Despite most of the patients having undergone axillary node dissection, the ipsilateral axilla drainage pathway was the most common (67% of upper limbs). We found drainage to the ipsilateral axilla decreased as MDACC stage increased. Our results suggest that the axillary pathway remained patent for over two-thirds of patients, rather than completely obstructed as conventionally thought to be the case for BCRL.

Conclusions: We developed a new ICG lymphography protocol for diagnosing BCRL focusing on identification of an individual patient's lymphatic drainage pathway after lymph node surgery. The new ICG lymphography protocol will allow a personalised approach to manual lymphatic drainage massage and potentially surgery.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Lymphatic system; Lymphoedema; Lymphography; Manual lymphatic drainage; Molecular imaging.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


Fig. 1
Fig. 1
ICG injection sites
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Comparison of ICG lymphography and tracing photo (left and centre) and Lymphoscintigraphy image (right) in the same patient
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
Patterns of drainage pathway in ICG lymphography images (left) and tracing photos (right): a ipsilateral axilla, b clavicular, c parasternal, and d contralateral axilla

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