Background: Lymphedema is a common complication of axillary dissection for breast cancer. We investigated whether manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) could prevent or manage limb edema in women after breast-cancer surgery.Methods: We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to evaluate the effectiveness of MLD in the prevention and treatment of breast-cancer-related lymphedema. The PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro), SCOPUS, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials electronic databases were searched for articles on MLD published before December 2012, with no language restrictions. The primary outcome for prevention was the incidence of postoperative lymphedema. The outcome for management of lymphedema was a reduction in edema volume.Results: In total, 10 RCTs with 566 patients were identified. Two studies evaluating the preventive outcome of MLD found no significant difference in the incidence of lymphedema between the MLD and standard treatment groups, with a risk ratio of 0.63 and a 95% confidence interval (CI) of 0.14 to 2.82. Seven studies assessed the reduction in arm volume, and found no significant difference between the MLD and standard treatment groups, with a weighted mean difference of 75.12 (95% CI, -9.34 to 159.58).Conclusions: The current evidence from RCTs does not support the use of MLD in preventing or treating lymphedema. However, clinical and statistical inconsistencies between the various studies confounded our evaluation of the effect of MLD on breast-cancer-related lymphedema.
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