Lymphedema is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in tissues, typically at the upper or the lower limb.
This may be the result of surgery (especially in the context of cancer treatments), radiation therapy, trauma, etc.
Up to 50% of patients treated for breast cancer develop lymphedema of the upper limb (after radiotherapy, sentinel node sampling or axillary dissection). Problems often arise some time (sometimes years) after primary treatment for breast cancer. Functional disability and the high risk of infection (lymphangitis) are the main effects of lymphedema, and so sometimes a serious consequence of breast cancer treatment.
There are three possible treatments for lymphedema: transplantation of lymph nodes, the lympho-venous anastomosis and liposuction.
During the transfer of the lymph nodes of the same patient healthy nodes (groin) are transplanted microsurgically to the affected area (e.g., armpit). This procedure is performed under general anesthesia and can be performed in combination with a breast reconstruction.
In lympho-venous anastomosis creating a short circuit between the lymphatic and venous system via small incisions in the skin.
Liposuction is a treatment for the advanced stages of lymphedema and is reserved only for edema unresponsive to other treatments.
After these procedures, patients must follow a rehabilitation program, where the physiotherapist plays a major role.
It is important to intervene during the first year, before the fibrosis stage sets. Acting early to edema stages guarantees the best results.
This procedure is performed under general anesthesia and lasts three hours.
During your consultation, you will discuss with your surgeon surgical treatment options. The necessary preoperative investigations are talked about at that time. The discomfort and possible complications are discussed with you during this consultation.
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