Lymph node transfer is a viable treatment for severe lymphedema

breast anatomy

“Cancer was a piece of cake,” Virginia Harrod says. “It was the lymphedema that almost killed me.”

NPR reports that nine months after Harrod’s mastectomy, her cat scratched her hand. She wasn’t concerned at first, but her doctor “recognized her symptoms as a serious and advancing infection.”

Harrod was in the hospital for eight days, and that’s when she first learned she had lymphedema. Over the next 10 months, she was readmitted twice more with dangerous infections.

Lymphedema (secondary/acquired) is a common complication of breast cancer treatment, but it gets short shrift from doctors when patients are assessing treatment risks. My experience confirms this research finding.

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What is lymphedema?

lymphedema and breast cancer

The lymphatic system transports lymph (limf), a protein-rich clear fluid containing white blood cells, throughout the body. A key part of the body’s immune system, lymph fluid moves through lymph vessels and hundreds of lymph nodes.

Lymphedema — swelling or edema — happens when the lymphatic system isn’t working properly. It is sometimes a side effect of breast cancer treatment and is considered secondary lymphedema.

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