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Effectiveness of manual lymphatic drainage for breast cancer-related lymphoedema: an overview of systematic reviews and meta-analyses

  • Wenting Xing1,†
  • Dan Duan2,†
  • Caixia Ye1
  • Cheng Chen3
  • Yonggui Ge1
  • Yuanyuan Li2
  • Haijuan Lin1
  • Jiqi Wu1
  • Wanqiang Chen1,*,

1Department of Rehabilitation, The First Hospital of Lanzhou University, 730030 Lanzhou, Gansu, China

2School of Nursing, Evidence-based Nursing Center, Lanzhou University, 730000 Lanzhou, Gansu, China

3Department of Breast Disease, The First Hospital of Lanzhou University, 730030 Lanzhou, Gansu, China

DOI: 10.22514/ejgo.2023.001 Vol.44,Issue 1,February 2023 pp.1-16

Submitted: 05 July 2022 Accepted: 08 October 2022

Published: 15 February 2023

*Corresponding Author(s): Wanqiang Chen E-mail:

† These authors contributed equally.


There are several studies on the treatment of breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL) based on the manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) technique, making it a widely accepted conservative treatment for BCRL. In this study, PubMed, Embase and Cochrane Library databases were searched for systematic reviews (SRs) or meta-analyses (MAs) from inception till 28 March 2022. The methodological quality of the included SRs/MAs was evaluated using the Assessing the Methodological Quality of Systematic Reviews 2 (AMSTAR-2), and the evidence quality of outcome measures using the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE). Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation-Confidence in the Evidence from Reviews of Qualitative Research (GRADE-CERQual) was used to describe the certainty of evidence from qualitative data. The study results identified 7 eligible SRs/MAs. Evaluation using AMSTAR-2 revealed only one moderate quality study, while the others were rated as low or critically low. The GRADE criteria identified 3 very-low-quality evidence studies, 1 low-quality evidence study, and 9 moderate-quality evidence studies. The GRADE-CERQual assessment showed the confidence for decision-making was either low or moderate. Overall, the results indicated that MLD could significantly reduce lymphedema in patients aged <60 years (standard mean difference (SMD): −1.77, 95% confidence interval (CI): (−2.23 to −1.31)), and the optimal intervention duration was 1 month. Although MLD for BCRL might reduce lymphoedema volume, their effects were not well established, and therefore, we could not recommend the addition of MLD to complete decongestive therapy (CDT) or compression therapy for patients with BCRL. Thus, MLD treatment appeared to be an ambiguous but potentially effective BCRL treatment. Rigorously designed high-quality randomized controlled trials with larger sample sizes are needed to further verify the effectiveness of MLD therapy in BCRL treatment.


Manual lymphatic drainage; Breast cancer-related lymphoedema; Effectiveness; Overview

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Wenting Xing,Dan Duan,Caixia Ye,Cheng Chen,Yonggui Ge,Yuanyuan Li,Haijuan Lin,Jiqi Wu,Wanqiang Chen. Effectiveness of manual lymphatic drainage for breast cancer-related lymphoedema: an overview of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. European Journal of Gynaecological Oncology. 2023. 44(1);1-16.


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