Lymphedema is a progressive, debilitating condition that affects up to 250 million people worldwide. It is characterized by an accumulation of fat or fluid, usually in the arms or legs, that can cause swelling, pain, numbness and tingling. The condition can be caused by a number of factors, ranging from bacterial infection to surgical trauma of the lymphatic system. In the U.S., the most common form of this condition is breast cancer-related lymphedema, or BCRL.
In advanced lymphedema, excess fluid may build up and prevent mobility of the affected arm or leg. Left uncontrolled, this condition also may lead to an infection of the skin called cellulitis, as well as an infection of the lymph vessels (lymphangitis) and cancer (lymphatic malignancies). To prevent these complications, it’s important to treat lymphedema in its early stages. Our specialists are experienced in treating this condition using techniques that are aimed at providing relief and promoting healing.
Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema
In the U.S., women who have had lumpectomies or mastectomies along with significant sentinel lymph node biopsies (removal of large clusters of lymph nodes in the armpit area) are at the highest risk for developing lymphedema. Lymph nodes in this region provide lymphatic drainage for the arms. When enough of these lymph nodes are removed, their loss may affect the body’s ability to efficiently move fluid back and forth.
For early-stage lymphedema, lifestyle changes and medical and therapeutic interventions are the first steps in care. These non-surgical methods may offer relief from lymphedema without surgery. However, in some instances lymphedema doesn’t respond to these initial interventions and supermicrosurgery or other special treatments may be needed.
When lymphedema has reached the advanced stage, surgery usually is required. A technique called vascularized lymph node transplant can be used to transfer lymph nodes from one area of the body to the affected area. In some situations, this treatment can help improve lymph drainage and slow the progression of the disease.
Conditions & Treatments
Our nationally recognized surgeons are dedicated to focusing on your unique lymphedema needs and the following conditions:
- Lymphedema of the arms and legs
- Pneumatic compression
- Excess fluid and fat build-up
- Limb pain
- Lymphatic malignancy
- Lymphoscintigraphy (imaging of the lymphatic system)
- Complete decongestive therapy (CDT)
- Manual lymph drainage
- Compression garments
Why Choose Us?
Our lymphedema treatment program is managed by a team of specialists working in collaboration with Washington University physicians from other fields of medicine. This multidisciplinary approach, coupled with our use of advanced and innovative techniques, means we can offer early detection for lymphedema and precise diagnosis and treatment. Our specialized reconstructive surgeons also work closely with lymphedema therapists to provide high-level comprehensive care.
What to Expect
Once you request an appointment, our scheduling team will call you to schedule your initial consultation. You will first meet with one of our specialists and then receive care from a collaborative team of lymphedema experts.