Although there is no cure for lymphedema, certain treatments can help reduce symptoms. At NYU Langone, surgical treatments are used when cancer treatments lead to severe secondary lymphedema that does not improve with less invasive therapies.
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Reconstructive microsurgeons sometimes use microsurgical techniques to treat symptoms of mild to severe lymphedema caused by breast cancer treatments.
At NYU Langone, reconstructive microsurgeons may use a technique called vascularized lymph node transfer, in which healthy nonessential lymph nodes from the abdomen or other parts of the body are removed and transplanted to the armpit. The surgeon uses a microscope to operate on very small structures, such as blood vessels.
Performed with general anesthesia, this technique is designed to help restore lymphatic function. The surgery takes about six hours and requires a one- to two-day hospital stay. Recovery time varies depending on the site from which the lymph nodes were taken but generally takes six weeks with activity restrictions.
Lymphovenous bypass surgery can help treat the symptoms of secondary lymphedema. Using this “supermicrosurgery” technique, the surgeon connects lymphatic channels to neighboring veins in affected areas. This helps to bypass lymphatic channels that are not functioning properly and allows built-up lymphatic fluid to drain into veins.
The surgery takes about three hours to complete, and typically patients are able to go home the same day.
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