The Use of Ultrasound for Upper Extremity Lymphedema after Breast Cancer: A Systematic Review

J Reconstr Microsurg. 2022 Sep 26. doi: 10.1055/s-0042-1750824. Online ahead of print.


Background: The aim of this study was to analyze the different applications of ultrasound (US) in upper extremity lymphedema (UEL) after breast cancer.

Methods: A systematic review of the literature was performed in line with the PRISMA statement using MEDLINE/PubMed databases from January 1970 to December 2021. Articles describing the application of US in patients with UEL after breast cancer were included. The quality of the study, the level of reproducibility, and the different applications and type of US technique were analyzed.

Results: In total, 30 articles with 1,193 patients were included in the final review. Five different applications were found: (1) diagnosis of UEL (14 studies found a direct correlation between lymphedema and morphological and/or functional parameters); (2) staging/severity of UEL (9 studies found a direct correlation between the clinical stage and the soft-tissue stiffness/texture/thickness); (3) therapeutic assessment (3 studies found an improvement in the circulatory status or in the muscle/subcutaneous thickness after conservative treatments); (4) prognosis assessment of UEL (1 study found a correlation between the venous flow and the risk of UEL); and (5) surgical planning (3 studies determined the location of the lymphatic vessel for lymphovenous anastomosis [LVA] surgery).

Conclusion: Morphological and functional parameters have been correlated with the diagnosis, stage, therapeutic effect, prognosis of UEL, and surgical planning of LVA.