Objectives: Upper limb lymphedema secondary to breast cancer treatment is the leading cause of lymphedema in France. Despite improved surgical practices and de-escalation of radiotherapy, the risk of lymphedema after breast cancer still affects 5-20% of patients, with this variation depending on the measurement method used and the population studied. Lymphedema has a negative impact on quality of life and body image, and their possible occurrence remains a major concern for all women treated for breast cancer. The Sénologie Commission of the Collège national des gynécologues et obstétriciens français (CNGOF) asked four specialists in breast surgery or lymphology to prepare a summary on the prevention, medical and surgical management of lymphedema after breast cancer treatment, and to discuss the medical and surgical innovations currently being evaluated.
Methods: This synthesis was based on national and international guidelines on the management of upper limb lymphedema after breast surgery and a recent review of the literature focusing on the years 2020-2023.
Results: From a preventive point of view, the restrictive instructions imposed for a long time (reduction in physical activity or the carrying of loads, air travel, exposure to the sun or cold, etc.) have altered patients' quality of life and should no longer be recommended. A good understanding of risk factors enables us to target preventive actions. Examples include obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, axillary clearance, radiotherapy of the axillary fossa in addition to axillary clearance, total mastectomy, taxanes or anti-HER-2 therapies in the adjuvant phase. Resumption of physical activity, minimally invasive axillary surgery, de-escalation of radiotherapy and breast-conserving surgical procedures have all demonstrated their preventive value. When lymphedema does occur, early management, through complete decongestive physiotherapy, can help reduce its volume and prevent its long-term worsening.
Conclusion: Surgical (lymph node transplants, lympho-vascular anastomoses) and medical (prolymphangiogenic growth factors) approaches to lymphedema treatment are numerous, but require long-term evaluation of their efficacy and adverse effects.
Keywords: Breast cancer; Cancer du sein; Compression; Drainage; Lymphedema; Lymphœdème; Microchirurgie; Microsurgery.
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