MedStar Franklin Square Offers Unique Lymph Node Transfer Procedure
BALTIMORE—(September 17, 2018)— There are usually few options to treat the swelling, pain and risk of infection that come with lymphedema. But with a novel technique offered at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, patients finally have a chance to put the condition behind them.
Dr. Gabriel Del Corral, a surgeon with MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center’s MedStar Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery department, is offering a cutting edge treatment that can reduce lymphedema in the arm caused by breast cancer surgery, or in the leg. In the procedure, Dr. Del Corral transfers lymph nodes from one part of a patient’s body such as the abdomen or clavicle back into his or her armpit or groin.
Lymphedema is caused when loss of the lymph nodes in the armpit after breast cancer surgery prevents lymph fluid from draining, leading to swelling in the arm. When it occurs in the leg, it can be caused by infection, injury, trauma, or cancer that affects the lymphatic system.
The swelling can cause pain and discomfort and cause the limb to become twice as large as normal. The swelling also raises the risk of recurrent infections. For some patients, it causes tingling and numbness that makes them unable to use their arm or leg. It is usually treated with compression garments.
Lymph node transfers are relatively new to the United States, having only been around for two to three years. The procedure has been used in Europe for about six to seven years. Only about 10 percent of hospitals around the country currently offer it.
“Until recently, doctors have not been able to offer patients with lymphedema a real solution,” said Dr. Del Corral, who is also an assistant professor of plastic surgery at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “We are finally able to offer relief to patients who in some cases have suffered for years or decades.”
When a woman undergoes surgery to remove breast cancer tissue, lymph nodes in the armpit are sometimes removed. The lymphedema which sometimes results can take women by surprise as it can show up years after the initial mastectomy. Few are aware it is a relatively common side effect, with an incidence that may be as high as 65% to 70% after a modified radical mastectomy.
In the lymph node transfer, lymph nodes are harvested from the abdomen or clavicle areas, then transferred to the armpit or groin. Using specialized microsurgical techniques, Dr. Del Corral reconnects the artery and vein to recipient blood vessels to provide vital support to the lymph nodes during the initial healing phase. The procedure can be performed at the same time as a breast reconstruction after mastectomy. Patients stay overnight after the procedure, then go home the next day.
One patient of Dr. Del Corral’s went through a mastectomy for breast cancer in 1982 and developed lymphedema in her left arm 16 years later. She was unhappy with her appearance and gained weight, and had to buy shirts that were too large and have them taken in to fit around her swollen arm. Last year, Dr. Del Corral transferred lymph nodes from her abdomen to her armpit, and her arm has been slowly returning to its normal size. She’s now back to exercising, losing weight, and being able to enjoy simple things like wearing jewelry on her left arm and ditching compression garments.
Dr. Del Corral, who joined MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center in January, also specializes in microsurgical advancements in reconstructive breast surgery.
“Try to wear a compression garment in the summer, or your marriage rings,” said Dr. Del Corral. “All those little things we take for granted, and it’s really amazing when we can get some improvement.”
To make an appointment with Dr. Del Corral, or for more information on the services he provides, call 443-777-7631.
About the MedStar Health Cancer Network
The MedStar Health Cancer Network, comprised of MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, MedStar Good Samaritan, MedStar Harbor, and MedStar Union Memorial hospitals, represents a true collaboration in oncology care. Our dedicated team of surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, oncology nurses, and cancer support staff collaborate to effectively and efficiently meet the needs of cancer patients and their families throughout the greater Baltimore region. Our goal is to provide evidenced-based, quality care with a focus on service and easy access.
The Cancer Network has recently been granted Three-Year Accreditation with Commendation from the Commission on Cancer (CoC) of the American College of Surgeons (ACoS). The Cancer Network is committed to delivering the highest standards of care—this national endorsement further validates the quality of care its experts provide to cancer patients in the Baltimore community.
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