UCSD Health offers preventative lymphedema surgery for breast cancer patients

SAN DIEGO — UC San Diego Health announced Tuesday that it will begin offering a surgical procedure to prevent lymphedema, a painful swelling condition occurring in breast cancer survivors who have had the lymph nodes under their arms removed.

Roughly one in five of the 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. will be diagnosed with lymphedema, according to UCSD Health. The newly available preventive surgery targets lymphatic fluid channels that are disrupted during the removal of underarm nodes and reconnects the vessels to prevent swelling.

“This delicate surgery is performed at the same time the lymph nodes are removed and tested for cancer,” said Dr. Frederick Kolb, a UCSD Health plastic surgeon. “Instead of treating patients after lymphedema presents itself, we hope to prevent the condition for patients who may be at risk.”

The microsurgery is available at UCSD Health’s Comprehensive Breast Health Center in the Koman Family Outpatient Pavilion, which also offers care from certified lymphedema therapists, who assist patients in preventing the condition through exercise and massage.

UCSD Health plastic surgeon Christopher Reid said the surgery could also be used to treat lymphedema in other areas of the body.

“This microsurgical technique `re-plumbs’ the lymphatic system to allow for the normal flow and drainage of lymphatic fluid,” Reid said. “The technique may also be applicable to prevent leg lymphedema caused by lymph node dissections in the groin.”

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