Postmastectomy upper limb lymphedema: Combined vascularized lymph node transfer and scar release with fat graft expedites surgical and patients’ related outcomes. A retrospective comparative study

M. Maruccia, R. Elia*, P. Ciudad, E. Nacchiero, F. Nicoli, M. Vestita, H. C. Chen, G. Giudice

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review

37 Scopus citations

Abstract

Introduction: Lymphedema resulting from breast cancer treatment is a chronic condition that can significantly compromise quality of life. Several works have documented the efficacy of vascularized lymph node flap transfer (VLNT) for the treatment of advanced-stage lymphedema. Given that the axillary scar may contribute to the patient's existing lymphedema, the authors assumed that combining VLNT and scar release with fat graft could be an effective strategy of treatment. The purpose of this study is to compare the efficacy in the reduction of limb circumference and health-related quality of life between a combined strategy, namely, VLN transfer (VLNT) and axillary scar release with fat grafting, and only VLNT for patients affected by postmastectomy upper limb lymphedema. The idea. Materials and methods: All patients with stage II and III breast cancer-related lymphedema operated between January 2012 and January 2016 were retrospectively identified, and only those treated by combined VLNT and scar release (Group A) or only VLNT (Group B) were included. The outcomes were assessed clinically by limb circumference measurement and radiologically by lymphoscintigraphy. Lymphedema-related quality of life was evaluated preoperatively and at 1 year follow-up through the LYMQOL questionnaire. Results: Thirty-nine patients met inclusion criteria (Group A = 18; Group B = 21). Mean follow-up was 29 months for Group A and 32 months for Group B. Flap survival rate was 100%, with no donor site morbidity in all patients. A statistically significant difference between the circumference reduction rates (RR) at above elbow level was observed at 3 and 6 months of follow-up comparing the two groups (p<0.00001), with higher values in Group A than in Group B. No significant difference was detected comparing RR values at above and below elbow at 12 and 24 months postoperatively. LYMQOL metrics showed significantly better scores (p<0.0001) in all domains at all follow-up appointments in Group A. Conclusions: Patients with postmastectomy upper limb lymphedema can benefit from combined lymph node transfer and axillary scar release with fat graft, as this approach seems to fasten the onset of improvement and to have a positive impact on patients’ quality of life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)892-901
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery
Volume72
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 06 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd

Keywords

  • Breast cancer
  • Fat graft
  • Lymphedema
  • Postmastectomy upper limb lymphedema
  • Vascularized lymph node transfer

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