Prevention of Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema

Clin Breast Cancer. 2021 Apr;21(2):128-142. doi: 10.1016/j.clbc.2021.02.009. Epub 2021 Mar 17.


Tremendous progress has been made over the past several decades in the treatment of breast cancer. Mortality and recurrence rates continue to decline. Our ability to tailor patient- and tumor-specific treatments has rapidly advanced. The vast majority of our patients can safely have breast conservation. Unfortunately, for many patients, survivorship is burdened by ongoing quality-of-life issues. Most breast cancer patients are asymptomatic at presentation, and the onus is on us to preserve this. Surgery, radiation, and systemic therapy can result in long-term toxicities that can be amplified with multimodality approaches. We must strive to apply minimally effective therapies rather than a maximally tolerated approach. Breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL) is a particularly dreaded chronic complication. This review strives to give the reader a better understanding of BCRL and shed light on wisely choosing an integration of treatment modalities that minimizes BCRL risk. Key literature on emerging concepts is highlighted.

Keywords: Axillary reverse mapping; De-escalating axillary surgery; Lympha; Lymphedema; Smarter axilary staging.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Cancer Lymphedema / etiology
  • Breast Cancer Lymphedema / prevention & control*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymph Node Excision / adverse effects
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control*