Survivors of breast cancer treatment can now look forward to a new technique for treating lymphedema –liposuction for lymphedema is being promoted as another option available to patients. There are still some reservations among doctors, however. While some feel that this is a radical new method, there are others who feel liposuction would only aggravate lymphedema and hence patients should continue the decongestive therapy along with compression bandages. Recently, in Sweden, Dr. Brorson has used liposuction for treating patients with post-mastectomy arm lymphedema. The procedure was a success and about 70 patients who had undergone the treatment found that the swelling reduced completely and did not recur.
Liposuction is a surgical procedure that removes surplus fat from the thigh area or the stomach. Incisions are made to extract the extra fat; similarly, in liposuction lymphedema treatment, 15-20 incisions are made on the affected arm of the patient. The controversy is about the surgical incisions which, doctors feel, may complicate matters for the patient. However, liposuction is performed only on those patients who have long-standing lymphedema and who do not respond to the usual therapy of massage and bandaging. Such patients usually have a very severe case of lymphedema with no skin pitting.
In normal circumstances, the body depends upon the lymphatic system to take care of the healing process. Lymphedema is the result of the injury of the lymph vessels and an individual suffering from it has poor healing capability. Surgeons therefore opine that since liposuction involves surgical incisions, these may cause wounds and swelling in the lymphedema arm. Poor healing and a slow immune system make lymphedema patients prone to infections, which is not a good scenario for performing any kind of surgery.
The liposuction therapy for lymphedema patients conducted by Dr. Brorson has been accepted by the European Community. However, it is suggested only for patients with severe symptoms of lymphedema with no skin pitting. The procedure should also be performed only by trained and licensed surgeons. Even after liposuction surgery, the patients must continue to use the compression bandages. Taking the reduction of the arm into consideration, compression garments are tailor-made for the patients. During the course of a year after the surgery, arm measurements are taken to make new compression sleeves so as to sustain the reduction in arm volume.
Some cases of lymphedema have been the result of a liposuction surgery that was not done right. Liposuction for lymphedema patients may even otherwise be a risky proposition and the procedure may not have lasting effects. The 70 patients who have undergone liposuction treatment need to be monitored for the next seven years to find out if the treatment was indeed successful.
Liposuction is not meant to treat or correct the lymphatic system, so it is not a cure for lymphedema. Lymphedema can only be managed by taking certain precautions and taking steps to delay the onset. Persons who have had surgery for removal of the lymph nodes must be alert to any signs of the condition. Bandaging of the arm and exercises can prove useful to reduce the severity of the condition.