What is the role of surgery in the treatment of lymphedema?

Updated: Mar 24, 2021
  • Author: Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
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Surgical treatment is palliative, not curative, and it does not obviate the need for continued medical therapy. Moreover, it is rarely indicated as the primary treatment modality. Rather, surgical treatment is reserved for patients who do not improve with conservative measures or for cases in which the extremity is so large that it impairs daily activities and prevents successful conservative management.

A myriad of surgical procedures have been advocated for the treatment of lymphedema, reflecting a lack of clear superiority of one procedure over the others. Multiple physiologic and excisional techniques have been described. None of the physiologic techniques has clearly documented long-term favorable results; further evaluation is necessary. Moreover, many of the physiologic techniques also include an excisional component, making it difficult to distinguish between the 2 approaches.

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