Air Travel and Postoperative Lymphedema—A Systematic Review

  • Michael Co
    Department of Surgery, Queen Mary Hospital, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
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  • Judy Ng
    Department of Surgery, Queen Mary Hospital, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
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  • Ava Kwong
    Address for correspondence: Ava Kwong, FRCS (Edin), Department of Breast Surgery, The University of Hong Kong, K1401, Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
    Department of Surgery, Queen Mary Hospital, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
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Published:October 19, 2017DOI:


      Lymphedema is not uncommon after axillary dissection for breast cancer. Improved survival of patients with breast cancer from advances in adjuvant therapy has resulted in increased awareness of the quality of life for long-term survivors. Air travel has been postulated as 1 of the risk factors of lymphedema exacerbation. In the present systematic review, we sought to critically evaluate the current data on this topic. The present study was registered in the Research Registry. A systematic review of lymphedema and air travel was performed using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses protocol. The Medline, EMBASE, CINAHL, and Cochrane databases were searched for English-language studies up to June 2017 with a predefined strategy. The retrieved studies were independently screened and rated for relevance. Data were extracted by 2 of us. A total of 55 studies were identified using predefined keywords; 12 studies were included using the criteria stated in the study protocol. A pooled analysis of 2051 patients with a history of air travel revealed that ≤ 14.5% developed lymphedema after air flight. However, a subsequent analysis of 4 studies with a control arm showed that 107 of 1189 patients (9%) with a documented history of air travel developed lymphedema compared with 204 of 2356 patients (8.7%) who had not flown (χ2 test; P = .80). Two studies (1030 patients) evaluated the effect of lymphedema on patients' air travel patterns. Of the 1030 patients, 141 (13.7%) had totally avoided air travel after the development of lymphedema. However, air travel was not adversely associated with the development of lymphedema.


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