Living Healthy -- Node transfer for lymphedema patients - WHDH-TV 7News Boston

Living Healthy -- Node transfer for lymphedema patients

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Battling breast cancer often continues long after surgery. In many patients who have had their lymph nodes removed, a painful condition may develop.

Marcia Pearson was 49 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I had a lumpectomy, that was in 1997. In 2001 I started to get in my left arm a little bit of pain,” said Marcia Pearson, breast cancer survivor.

However, Marcia’s pain quickly progressed.

"I got up one morning and my arm was just all swelled up, I had a great big bag under the arm,” Marcia said.

She was diagnosed with an infection and it turned out to be related to her earlier breast cancer surgery.

"I didn't even know about lymphedema,” said Marcia.

Lymphedema is swelling related to lymph nodes.

When someone has breast cancer the lymph nodes in the armpit are commonly removed. However, without these lymph nodes the arm can swell.

"I’ve had patients that can’t put their hand behind their back, can't put it above their head because it's too heavy or too bulky,” said Dr. Rebecca Studinger, plastic surgeon.

"It started to get progressively worse, my problem with lymphedema was infections,” Marcia said.

The infections can be quite severe, even life threatening.

"I had a lymphatic press pump that I have to carry," she said.

The pump squeezes fluid out of the arm, but in severe cases like Marcia's it's not always effective.

"I was starting to get scared that there wasn't anything out there for me, no hope, and it was a very depressing time,” said Marcia.

She discovered a surgical procedure pioneered and refined in France.

"A lymph node transfer is when you take lymph nodes from one area of the body and move them to the area that's not draining well,” said Dr. Studinger.

Marcia had the surgery; a group of lymph nodes were taken from her groin and transplanted into her armpit

"It’s over 90 percent of the time that people have a good result with this where either they will see a reduction in the size of their arm or their leg on the infection rate going down,” Dr. Studinger said.

The results are not immediate; it could take as long as a year to actually reverse the swelling. However the reversal is consistent and in most cases will find themselves being cured. 

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