New Technique Prevents Lymphedema in Breast Cancer Patients

LYMPHA, offered exclusively in the United States at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, is safe and effective for the prevention of breast cancer-related lymphedema, according to a recent study

Oct 21, 2015

New York

Early data from a NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia pilot study suggests that an innovative microsurgery technique helps prevent lymphedema in breast cancer patients. Results from the study have been published in the Annals of Surgical Oncology.

The study of the lymphatic microsurgical preventive healing approach, or LYMPHA, was the first conducted outside of the University of Genoa in Italy, where the technique was developed.

“Even when they are successfully treated, breast cancer patients may still have to live with difficult side effects as a result of techniques used while undergoing care,” said Dr. Sheldon Feldman, chief of the Division of Breast Surgery and the Vivian L. Milstein Associate Professor of Clinical Surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. “While LYMPHA is still a relatively new procedure, we found it to be extremely effective in preventing lymphedema in this pilot study.”

Lymphedema, the accumulation of lymph fluid in the arm and painful swelling due to blocked lymph drainage, occurs in up to 13 percent of breast cancer patients after sentinel node biopsy and external-beam radiation, and up to 40 percent following complete axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) and radiation.

The condition can greatly affect quality of life for breast cancer patients and, can require lifetime treatment with support stockings and manual lymph drainage. LYMPHA was designed to help prevent lymphedema by creating a bypass to restore lymphatic flow by connecting lymph vessels to a branch of the axillary vein, a pathway normally severed by node removal. This preventative bypass is performed immediately after lymph node removal so that the normal lymphatic flow is maintained. It adds about 45 minutes to the lymph node removal procedure and no procedure related side effects have occurred.

In NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia’s pilot study of the technique, 37 women considered to be at the highest risk for the developing lymphedema underwent LYMPHA. Nearly 90 percent of women in the trial who successfully underwent LYMPHA did not develop lymphedema. In the control group of patients who did not undergo the LYMPHA procedure, 40 percent of the patients have experienced lymphedema that requires ongoing treatment.

While the technique has proven safe and effective thus far, further large-scale multicenter trials will have to be conducted to confirm the efficacy of the procedure. Eventually, LYMPHA could become the standard of care for breast cancer patients needing ALND.

“These results are extremely encouraging,” said Dr. Feldman, who is the study’s principal investigator. “Eventually, LYMPHA could help improve the quality of life for breast cancer patients across the country.”


NewYork-Presbyterian, based in New York City, is a world-class academic healthcare delivery network dedicated to providing the highest quality and most advanced care to patients and families in the Greater New York area and across the country. In collaboration with two world-renowned medical school partners, Weill Cornell Medicine and Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, NewYork-Presbyterian delivers patient-centered care to one of the most diverse populations in the world, conducts groundbreaking medical research and develops leading clinical innovations.

NewYork-Presbyterian comprises four major divisions: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, a world-class academic medical center ranked the #1 hospital in the New York metropolitan area by U.S. News and World Report, and consistently named to the magazine’s Honor Roll of best hospitals in the nation; NewYork-Presbyterian Regional Hospital Network, comprised of leading regional hospitals in the New York metro region; NewYork-Presbyterian Physician Services, which brings medical experts to patients in convenient locations in their communities; and NewYork-Presbyterian Community and Population Health, comprised of the institution’s ambulatory care network sites and operations, community programs and initiatives and healthcare quality programs including NewYork Quality Care, the Accountable Care Organization jointly established by NewYork-Presbyterian, Weill Cornell and Columbia.

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