New Surgical Technique for Breast Cancer Patients

Many breast cancer patients suffer a condition that causes the permanent swelling of the arm. But a Houston doctor believes he has an answer to the problem, with a new surgical technique he learned in Japan. Bill Stamps has the story.
In the human arm there are very small passageways called lymphatic channels. During the treatment of some breast cancer patients, those channels can get blocked, causing the arm to swell.

"You may not see it because the patients are often times covering it with clothes. And sometimes the difference in the size may not be as dramatic, but patients feel the arm is heavy. They're prone to getting infection and in some cases it does swell up to the point that they have trouble getting into clothes."

David Chang is a surgeon at MD Anderson Cancer Center. He's been trying to minimize the swelling with a procedure he learned in Japan.

"It is technically challenging. Everything has to be done under a microscope and under very high magnification."

The lymphatic channels are smaller than a human hair. The goal during surgery is to provide a detour for the blockage. Doctor Chang says there's little downside to the procedure, there's isn't much scaring and the patient can be out of the hospital in less than 24 hours.

"The result is fairly immediate. For example, the next day they can [see] the difference."

Doctor Chang and a colleague have performed about 30 of the surgeries. They studied the results of the first twenty patients. While there's no cure for the blockage problem, his surgical technique does appear to be working.

Bill Stamps, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.