Breast cancer surgery or radiation can cause the lymph system to become damaged or blocked, resulting in a buildup of fluid in the soft tissue. This disease, known as lymphedema, can include painful swelling, chronic pain and recurring infections. In addition to treatments that help to reduce lymphedema symptoms, like wearing compression garments and getting regular exercise, surgery is sometimes needed.

Contact us online today to learn more about treating lymphedema of the upper extremities. The Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery of Central Texas helps men and women from Austin, Round Rock and throughout Texas.

Lymphedema After Breast Cancer Treatment

Lymphedema following breast cancer treatment may occur for several reasons. Surgical treatment of breast cancer removes tissue and often requires removal of one or more lymph nodes from the armpit. This may cause impaired lymphatic drainage in the arm, breast and chest wall. Additionally, radiation therapy also increases the risk of developing lymphedema.

Surgical Options

Surgery to bypass damaged areas of the lymphatic system may help to reduce the severity of lymphedema symptoms or decrease the progression of the disease. People who benefit most are earlier in the course of disease and have surgery in conjunction with ongoing complete decongestive therapy (CDT) in order to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

Following surgery, some people will see a substantial improvement in their symptoms, while others may experience little to no improvement. It is important to recognize that this disease cannot be cured, even through surgery. Surgery may be a useful addition to complete decongestive therapy, and CDT should be resumed about 4 weeks after surgery and continued ongoing for the best results.

Our Approach: Lymphovenous Bypass

While many people suffering from lymphedema have heard about the surgical technique known as vascularized lymph node transfer, we typically recommend it for only severe cases and only after significant counseling regarding risks and alternatives. These risks will be carefully discussed in detail during a consultation.

The lymphovenous bypass technique uses a special camera known as a photodynamic Eye (PDE) to visualize and characterize the actual lymphatic drainage pattern and identify sites for improvement. Small incisions are then made at these identified sites and bypasses are performed to link lymphatics to the venous system, allowing a new pattern of lymph drainage.

Lymphovenous bypass requires “supermicrosurgery” technique, with specialized instruments capable of properly identifying and rerouting areas of the lymphatic system. Surgery generally takes three to five hours, followed by an overnight hospital stay for observation/antibiotics.

If you are living with lymphedema, we encourage you to contact us online to learn if lymphedema surgery from the Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery of Central Texas can help you lead a better life.