LOS ANGELES – One in five of the more than 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. will be diagnosed with lymphedema, a painful swelling that usually occurs in one or both arms.
Now, there’s a new super-microsurgical procedure that may prevent it.
Veda Jackson, a breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed with stage three metastasis, was at risk of developing lymphedema after having a mastectomy and 13 lymph nodes removed.
“The lymphatic fluid that is all part of our body can no longer drain the arm. And as a result, it resides in the arm and causes a lot of swelling,” said Dr. Christopher Reid, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at UC San Diego Health.
At the time of the mastectomy, surgeons are now using immediate lymphatic reconstruction to prevent the painful swelling.
“When the lymphatics are getting injured at the time of surgery, why not try to fix them with what we call super-microsurgical techniques?” Reid said.
Christopher Reid, a UC San Diego surgeon, “re-plumbs” the drainage routes of the nodes. Using a microscope, Reid reconnects any disrupted channels that are usually smaller than the size of a single strand of hair.
“If I had a family member, a mother, a sister, a friend who was undergoing breast cancer therapy, I would 100% offer this to them,” Reid said.
Other than adding time in the operating room, Reid said there is no additional risk to the patient. The treatments worked on lymphedema.
“I feel great. Oh no, I feel great. Blessed, wonderful. All of those things,” Jackson said.
Breast cancer patients who are getting radiation or are obese have a greater risk of developing lymphedema. This technique may also be used to prevent leg lymphedema that is caused by lymph node removal in the groin area.