Treatment for lymphedema following head and neck cancer therapy: A systematic review

Albina Tyker, Joel Franco, Sean T. Massa, Shaun C. Desai, Scott G. Walen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Objective: To perform the first systematic review evaluating all established treatment modalities of head and neck lymphedema resulting from head and neck cancer therapy. Since craniofacial lymphedema treatment represents unique challenges not addressed by extremity lymphedema therapies, a systematic review and evaluation of treatment modalities specific to this area is needed to guide clinical management and further research. Data sources: Four electronic databases were searches from inception to September 2018. These included Scopus (Embase), PubMed (Medline),, and Cochrane Databases. Review methods: A search string was developed, and all databases queried for keywords on three subjects: head and neck cancer, lymphedema, and therapy. Results were uploaded to an EndNote database where relevant items were identified by hand-searching all titles and abstracts. Subsequently results were combined, duplicates removed, and full papers screened according to eligibility criteria. Results: Of a total 492 search results, twenty-six items met eligibility criteria for this review. These included fourteen cohort studies, seven case reports, two randomized controlled trials, two systematic reviews, and one narrative review totaling 1018 study subjects. The manual lymph drainage group had the largest number of studies and participants, with fewer studies investigating selenium, liposuction, and lymphaticovenular anastomosis. Conclusion: Evidence for the efficacy of all types of lymphedema therapy is limited by paucity of large randomized controlled trials. While manual lymph drainage is best studied, liposuction and surgical treatments have also been effective in a small number of patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)761-769
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Medicine and Surgery
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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