Charity funds pioneering treatment to reduce breast cancer complications

03 September 2018

Charity funds pioneering treatment to reduce breast cancer complications
An innovative technique to reduce complications for patients recovering from breast cancer surgery has been performed for the first time in the UK, thanks to Imperial Health Charity's support.

The Lymphatic Microsurgical Preventative Healing Approach  (LYMPHA) procedure, which greatly reduces the risk of breast cancer-related lymphoedema (BCRL), was carried out at Charing Cross Hospital after a charity grant gave staff the equipment they needed.

Up to 30 per cent of breast cancer survivors will develop BCRL, a long-term incurable condition resulting from a build-up of lymphatic fluid that causes swelling in the arms. The condition can lead to significant physical and emotional distress as well as anxiety.

“It’s an incredibly debilitating condition”, said Consultant Breast Surgeon Paul Thiruchelvam, who helped carry out the procedure with Consultant Plastic Surgeon Navid Jallali.

“It has a significant impact on a patient’s quality of life and body image and patients see their swollen limb as a stigma of their previous cancer treatment.

“Very little progress has been made in the treatment or prevention of lymphoedema, partly because it is very complex and poorly understood. Only now, as surgical techniques have developed, are we seeing that there are options in both preventative and treatment surgery as long as the condition is captured at an early stage."

The procedure involves injecting a fluorescent dye into the upper arm at the time of surgery to determine the lymphatic drainage of the arm at risk. Once this process is complete, a procedure called a lymphatic anastomosis (LVA) is carried out to maintain the flow of the fluid from the arm.

While the procedure is in its early stages, studies carried out by teams at Columbia University in New York and the University of Genoa have found that patients having a LYMPHA procedure are three times less likely to be affected by the condition than those who do not.

This pioneering operation was made possible thanks to a £55,000 grant from the charity which provided staff with the imaging equipment required.

Paul said: “This would not have been possible without the charity’s funding. I’m very grateful to the charity for giving us the opportunity to undertake this procedure. It’s going to make a huge difference to patients potentially at risk."

To find out more about our grants programme, click here.