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Wednesday, 27 September, 2000, 18:43 GMT 19:43 UK
'Liposuction' to ease surgery side-effect
Breast surgery
Lymphoedema often occurs in the wake of breast surgery
A technique associated more with the beauty industry is being used to help women with a disabling side-effect of breast cancer surgery.

Liposuction is usually employed to remove excess fat from the stomach or thighs, but a Swedish surgeon, Haken Brorson, is tackling a condition called lymphoedema.

However, a UK support group believes that the technique may hold dangers for the patient.

The lymphatic system is a circulatory system which redistributes excess fluids and dead cells around the body.

Women whose cancer requires the removal of lymph glands in the armpits - which can harbour cancer cells - can find the flow of lymph is disrupted.

This can cause, in some cases, an increase in the volume of fatty tissue in the arm, which is not only visually unappealing, but causes pain and lack of mobility.

Two litres removed

Between 30% and 40% of breast surgery and radiotherapy patients are affected to some degree by lymphoedema.

Dr Brorson is experimenting with a variation on the standard liposuction technique, which makes approximately 20 incisions along the affected arm and uses suction to remove the fatty tissue and lymph.

However, patients must then wear an elasticated compression bandage more or less permanently to stop the lymphoedema coming back.

Dr Brorson told the European Breast Cancer Conference in Brussels that he had operated on 64 patients, removing, on average, two litres of fat from the arms of the patients..

On average, the swelling was reduced by three quarters within a fortnight, and completely within a year.

Dr Brorson told the delegates: "It can change patients' lives - I shall always remember one of my patients telling me how much it meant to her to be able to walk into a shop and for the first time in many years choose a dress, confident that it would fit her and look good on her."

Lymphoedema was described as a "Cinderella" condition by Mrs Gloria Freilich, co-chairman of the conference.

"Commonly, patients are told that nothing much can be done to help them and that they should be grateful that they have been 'cured' of cancer," she said.

"They are frequently given inappropriate advice as being told to buy a mechanical pump for the arm.

"Used without profession supervision this can actually cause immense further damage."

However, a spokesman for the Lymphoedema Support Network in the UK said that she would be surprised if liposuction could become a regular treatment for the condition, mainly because of the risks of infection.

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26 Sep 00 | Health
Breast Cancer 2000
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