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Method of breast reconstruction and the development of lymphoedema. BJS 2017; 104: 230-237.

Published: 14th November 2016

Authors: K.‐T. Lee, S. I. Bang, J.‐K. Pyon, J. H. Hwang, G.‐H. Mun


Several studies have demonstrated an association between immediate autologous or implant‐based breast reconstruction and a reduced incidence of lymphoedema. However, few of these have
ocused specifically on whether the reconstruction method affects the development of lymphoedema. The study evaluated the potential impact of breast reconstruction modality on the incidence of lymphoedema.


Outcomes of women with breast cancer who underwent mastectomy and immediate reconstruction using an autologous flap or a tissue expander/implant between 2008 and 2013 were reviewed. Arm or hand swelling with pertinent clinical signs of lymphoedema and excess volume compared with those of the contralateral side was diagnosed as lymphoedema. The cumulative incidence of lymphoedema was estimated by the Kaplan–Meier method. Clinicopathological factors associated with the development of lymphoedema were investigated by Cox regression analysis.


A total of 429 reconstructions (214 autologous and 215 tissue expander/implant) were analysed; the mean follow‐up of patients was 45·3 months. The two groups had similar characteristics, except that women in the autologous group were older, had a higher BMI, and more often had preoperative radiotherapy than women in the tissue expander/implant group. Overall, the 2‐year cumulative incidence of lymphoedema was 6·8 per cent (autologous 4·2 per cent, tissue expander/implant 9·3 per cent). Multivariable analysis demonstrated that autologous reconstruction was associated with a significantly reduced risk of lymphoedema compared with that for tissue expander/implant reconstruction. Axillary dissection, a greater number of dissected lymph nodes and postoperative chemotherapy were also independent risk factors for lymphoedema.


The method of breast reconstruction may affect subsequent development of lymphoedema.

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