According to an article from Medical News Today published in July, lymphedema occurs in up to 13% of breast cancer patients, increasing to 40% after lymph node dissection and radiation, and it’s not only breast cancer patients that are at risk: “Surgery and radiation after lymph node removal can cause scarring that blocks the lymph ducts, not only in the underarm but also in the legs, groin, pelvis, or neck after treatment for uterine, prostate, ovarian, or prostate cancer, as well as lymphoma and melanoma.”
But now, there stems some hope. A group of surgeons and members of the breast cancer program of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center are undergoing a two-year pilot study of a microsurgery technique that could not only prevent lymphedema but also potentially detect and treat it early:
The LYMPHA technique creates a bypass to restore lymphatic flow by connecting lymph vessels to a branch of the axillary vein, a pathway normally severed by node removal or blocked by tissue fibrosis resulting from radiation, says Dr. Feldman, chief of the Division of Breast Surgery and the Vivian L. Milstein Associate Professor of Clinical Surgery at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.
Previous techniques for preserving lymphatic flow were lengthy and complex, and surgeons could not predict which patients would develop lymphedema or benefit from intervention. The LYMPHA bypass adds only 20-30 minutes to breast cancer surgery and ALND. “In addition to removing all potentially cancerous lymph nodes, we can now restore lymphatic flow and reduce the patient’s risk of developing lymphedema,” says Dr. Feldman.
This is a wonderful development for the lymphedema community and could spare countless cancer patients from the challenges of living with a chronic condition. All the best to the researchers and surgeons – can’t wait to hear updates about their study!
Interested in learning more? Read the full article here.