Lymph Node Transplant after Breast Cancer
Reported March 2010
CHARLESTON, S.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States. One in eight will be diagnosed with it during their lifetime, and it will claim the lives of more than 40,000 this year alone. But for those who beat the disease, sometimes the battle isn't always over after treatment ends.
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After surviving breast cancer, Jane Dinnan thought her troubles were over.
"You wanted to feel good about the fact that the cancer is gone, but I couldn't feel that way," Dinnan told Ivanhoe.
As part of her treatment, doctors removed 17 lymph nodes from Dinnan's arm; tiny organs that help the immune system fight off infection. But without the lymph nodes, body fluid couldn't drain from the limb.
"It felt like I had a lead weight on my arm all the time," Dinnan recalled.
Her arm swelled to more than twice its normal size.
"It just was miserable," Dinnan said. "I was miserable. I wanted, I mean the arm could go and I'd be happier."
She spent almost all of her time wearing a compression sleeve or using a machine to try to push the lymph up her arm so it could get into her immune system.
"The treatment of lymphedema for the most part in the United States is management or conservative management of lymphedema," Marga Massey, M.D., a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Roper St. Francis Hospital in Charleston, S.C., explained.
After being told there was no other option, Dinnan found Dr. Massey, who's brought a new surgery to the U.S. Dr. Massey removed three lymph nodes from the inside wall of Dinnan's abdomen.
"Blood vessels are harvested in order to keep the lymph nodes alive," Dr. Massey explained.
She then transplanted them under Dinnan's arm, into the area missing lymph nodes. Dinnan spent just one night in the hospital and the swelling went down almost immediately.
"I would say overwhelmingly the majority, somewhere even in the range of perhaps maybe 90 percent of patients, show relief from their symptoms," Dr. Massey said.
It's given Dinnan a chance to celebrate life cancer-free.
"I'm back to normal. I feel like my life is back," Dinnan said. "So I never felt the elation that I feel now that I've beat this."
Dr. Massey says the condition lymphedema occurs in up to 30 percent of breast cancer patients who've had lymph nodes removed as part of their treatment. Dinnan had the lymph node transplant surgery at the same time she was having breast reconstruction surgery.
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Marga F. Massey, MD, FACS
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