Background: Anatomic and functional descriptions of trunk and breast lymphedema following breast cancer treatment are emerging as indicators of lymphatic dysfunction. Indocyanine green-lymphangiography has been instrumental in characterizing this dysfunction in the extremity and can be applied to other regions. Previous work has established a validated Pittsburgh Trunk Lymphedema Staging System to characterize such affected areas. This study aims to identify risk and protective factors for the development of truncal and upper extremity lymphedema using alternative lymphatic drainage, providing implications for medical and surgical treatment.

Results: Eighty-six sides (46 patients) were included. Twelve sides underwent no treatment and were considered controls. Eighty-eight percent of the noncontrols had alternative lymphatic flow to the ipsilateral axillae (64%), ipsilateral groins (57%), contralateral axillae (20.3%), and contralateral groins (9.3%). 

This study shows risk and protective factors for the development of truncal and upper extremity lymphedema. Most prevalent alternative channels drain to the ipsilateral axilla and groin. Ipsilateral axillary and contralateral inguinal drainage were associated with reduced risk of truncal lymphedema. Patients with radiation, axillary dissection, and contralateral axillary drainage were associated with increased risk of upper extremity lymphedema. These findings have important clinical implications for postoperative manual lymphatic drainage and for determining eligibility for lymphovenous bypass surgery.

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