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Lymph Node Transplant

written by Pat O’Connor for

During this past year, we had quite a discussion on two newer concepts in the treatment and management of lymphedema.  These two treatments are lymph node transplant and lymph vessel transplant.

In truth, the concept is not new and I found an article first published in 1981 proposes lymph vessel transplantation and subsequently an experiment on dogs.  Obviously, after the passage of twenty six years, if this method were successful, we would have heard more about it and more research information would have been published.  It is my personal opinion, that in the long term, these two methods might well prove more dangerous than beneficial and I would be opposed to their use.

First, one of the biting questions of lymphedema research is “why is it that 60% of breast cancer patients do NOT get lymphedema?”  Research in that area proposes that perhaps those that DO get lymphedema already have a compromised or “at risk” lymph system.  Thus by removing lymph vessels or nodes from one area to re-implant in another, simply makes a trade on the location of the at risk area, so what actually is gained or what is the benefit for the patient?

One study following transplant, was done eight years after the surgical procedure. However, it is important to realize that lymphedema does not automatically appear immediately after the removal or destruction of either lymphatic vessels, tissue or nodes.  Many times it doesn’t appear for ten or more years.  So clearly, more research and study needs to be done on these two techniques.  Once it does occur, however, it is at this time a life-long condition with no cure.

One more consideration is that the nodes to be transplanted are removed from the inguinal area.  Radiological studies have clearly proved that my hereditary lymphedema is caused by the lack of development of numerous nodes in that exact area, both on the right and left sides of my body.  To remove nodes in this critical region is to put the patient at high risk for subsequent development of leg lymphedema.  If you trade arm lymphedema for leg lymphedema, have you really helped the patient?

In the meantime, I simply cannot recommend it.

Be safe – be well.

Pat O’Connor

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