OHIO — October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and after treatment is over many face a new challenge called lymphedema, but perhaps not for long thanks to new treatments.
Even after her battle with breast cancer Tina Washington still deals with a chronic condition called lymphedema.
Lymphedema occurs when a large number of lymph nodes are removed as a part of cancer treatment, and causes mobility limiting swelling in the arms, legs, feet and hands. It is most common in breast cancer patients and often requires physical therapy and for the patient to don compression garments.
Breast cancer survivor Tina Washington says, “Once you get through, what you think, is the scariest part of your life, then once you see that you’re a survivor, it’s like ‘Okay, if this is what I have to do, I will.’ I have to wear my sleeve everyday. I, usually when I’m getting dressed, I put my sleeve and glove on like it’s part of my clothes.”
The lymphatic system acts as an important part of the immune system and destroys the bad stuff – likes bacteria, viruses and other harmful substances. Now there are two new surgeries that could help prevent or stop it called lymphovenous bypass and vascularized lymph node transfer. The bypass surgery uses little tubes to help redirect the flow of lymph fluid in the body. The transfer surgery moves healthy lymph nodes from one site of the body to another.
Dr. Roman Skoracki of Ohio State University’s James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute helped pioneer this transfer surgery.
Dr. Roman Skoracki of Ohio State University’s James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute says, “We utilize some lymph nodes that are, I guess spare parts, if you want to call them that, that we can take away without harm elsewhere and transplanting those into the area of lyphedema.”
The doctor says that after the surgery 60% of patients will see a significant improvement in their symptoms. There are only a handful of doctors in the U.S. who can perform these surgeries.