Breakthrough surgery at CHUM helps lymphedema patients

Before operating on a 34-year-old woman with lymphedema on Jan. 31, surgeons at the CHUM use a special marker to trace the location of her lymphatic vessels and veins. CHUM

(Aaron Derfel/ Montreal Gazette) — Some Quebecers suffering from lymphedema — a chronic, aching condition that often results in the swelling of the arms or legs — can now turn to a new surgical treatment offered at the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal.

In a medical first in Quebec, a team of surgeons at the CHUM operated on a 23-year-old man on Jan. 22 to reduce the swelling in his left leg. And on Wednesday, the same team operated on a 34-year-old woman, bypassing lymphatic blockages in both her legs.

It’s estimated that more than 150,000 Canadians are afflicted with lymphedema. Some are born with the condition, but about 10 per cent of cancer patients develop it after surgery and radiotherapy causes damage to their lymphatic system.

Normally, lymph fluid, containing infection-fighting white blood cells, flows through the body unimpeded. Lymphedema arises when the fluid collects in certain parts of the body, causing chronic swelling.

Until now, the treatment of lymphedema in Quebec was limited to physiotherapy and the wearing of uncomfortable compression garments. Today, thanks to the medical advance at the CHUM, Quebecers with less severe lymphedema will be eligible for the surgical procedure, known as a lymphovenous bypass. (…)

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