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Breast lymphoedema is a largely unrecognised survivorship issue for women following breast cancer treatment. While a few objective methods have previously been applied to assess breast lymphoedema, none are capable of imaging breast lymphatics or identifying lymphatic morphological changes indicative of breast lymphoedema. The purpose of this study was to determine if indocyanine green (ICG) lymphography, a validated assessment technique in breast cancer-related lymphoedema), can visualise breast lymphatics and identify breast lymphoedema. Additionally, ICG lymphography was utilised to investigate lymphatic drainage pathways of the affected breast following breast-conserving therapy. Twenty female participants (10 breast lymphoedema and 10 healthy controls) were recruited for this pilot study. All underwent a medical history, physical breast assessment, tissue dielectric constant measures of breast water content, and ICG lymphography. ICG lymphography identified lymphatic morphological changes in all breast lymphoedema participants (dermal backflow patterns = 10, collateral lymphatic drainage = 9) and none in the control group. The dominant lymphatic drainage pathway to the ipsilateral axilla was observed in all control participants but in only four breast lymphoedema participants. Collateral drainage pathways in the breast lymphoedema group were to: parasternal (6/10); contralateral axilla (4/10); intercostal (3/10); and clavicular (2/10) regions. These findings suggest ICG lymphography, through the identification of morphological lymphatic changes, is a potential qualitative objective assessment technique for breast lymphoedema. Furthermore, in this group of breast lymphoedema patients it identified changes to the normal drainage pathway of the breast. Understanding these changes will have implications for clinical management.


Asha Heydon-White, Hiroo Suami, John Boyages, Louise Koelmeyer, Karen C Peebles. Assessing breast lymphoedema following breast cancer treatment using indocyanine green lymphography. Breast cancer research and treatment. 2020 Jun;181(3):635-644

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PMID: 32378054

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