March 24, 2009

New technique helps reduce lymphedema

Breast cancer patients with lymphedema in an upper arm experienced less fluid by up to 39 percent after undergoing a new technique, U.S. researchers said.

Researchers at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston said lymphedema results when the lymph nodes are removed or blocked due to treatment and lymph fluid accumulates causing chronic swelling in the upper arm.

There is no cure or preventive measure for lymphedema and it is difficult to manage, the researchers said.

The researchers evaluated 20 breast cancer patients with stage II and III treatment-related lymphedema of the upper arm who underwent a lymphaticovenular bypass at M.D. Anderson from December 2005 to September 2008.

Due to lymphedema, the patients' affected arm was an average of 34 percent larger compared to the unaffected arm prior to the surgery. Of these 20 patients, 19 reported initial significant clinical improvement following the procedure.

Lead author Dr. David W. Chang said that in those patients with postoperative volumetric analysis measurements, total mean reduction in the volume differential at one month was 29 percent, at three months 33 percent, at six months 39 percent and 25 percent at one year.

In lymphaticovenular bypass surgery, surgeons make two to three small incisions measuring an inch or less in the patient's arm and lymphatic fluid is then redirected to microscopic vessels to promote drainage and alleviate lymphedema.

The findings were presented at the 88th annual meeting of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons.