Lymph Node Transfer

Advanced lymphedema treatment

A common side effect of breast cancer treatment is lymphedema—a buildup of lymphatic fluid in the arm after axillary lymph nodes, located in the armpit, are removed. Lymphedema can be debilitating, causing pain, restricting mobility, and increasing risk of infections in the affected limb.

Traditionally, lymphedema is treated with physical therapy, compression and other time-consuming treatments. However, these methods are not effective for every patient and often require life-long treatments to control swelling and other symptoms—lymphedema can be very disruptive to a patient’s life. Fortunately, there is hope for a more lasting treatment.

We are Vascularized Lymph Node Transfer Surgery Specialists

Breast Reconstruction Specialists are among a select few surgeons nationwide who are trained and experienced in Vascularized Lymph Node Transfer (VLNT), a highly advanced new surgical option to improve or restore lymphatic function in patients facing lymphedema.

VLNT involves relocating healthy lymph nodes (typically from the groin area), with blood vessels intact, to the axillary area, and then using microsurgery to attach the transferred nodes to their new blood supply. VLNT can be performed in conjunction with DIEP Flap breast reconstruction, or as a standalone procedure following breast reconstruction for patients who suffer from lymphedema.

Advantages of vascularized lymph node transfer

  • Reduces arm swelling, discomfort, and physical disability in lymphedema patients. VLNT is one of the only treatment options that can help to restore the body’s ability to drain lymphatic fluid drainage in the affected area to more normal levels.
  • Can reduce or eliminate time and resources spent on lymphedema control treatments, thus enhancing patient quality of life.
  • When performed during immediate breast reconstruction, VLNT can significantly limit the severity of lymphedema, reducing the risk of permanent damage to soft tissues in the arm that can occur with severe or untreated lymphedema.

Considerations

  • VLNT is a highly advanced technique that requires a specialist with training in microsurgical lymph node transfer. Only a handful of surgeons nationwide currently perform VLNT, including our board certified plastic surgeons at Breast Reconstruction Specialists.
  • You will likely need to resume non-surgical lymphedema therapies for several weeks following surgery to prevent lymphatic fluid buildup while the transferred lymph nodes adapt to their new location.
  • Your doctor may require you to exhaust non-surgical treatment options before undergoing VLNT surgery. As VLNT is still a relatively new treatment option, patients who have already had breast reconstruction or who are not good DIEP Flap candidates may need to try other options first.
  • Some patients may require continued non-surgical lymphedema treatments after VLNT surgery, although most patients require less frequent or aggressive treatments.

Contact us to learn more about lymph node transfer options