Liposuction eases misery of women with cancer

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A cosmetic surgery technique for trimming surplus fat from women's hips, thighs and buttocks is transforming the lives of women suffering from a painful and grossly disabling side-effect of breast cancer treatment.

A cosmetic surgery technique for trimming surplus fat from women's hips, thighs and buttocks is transforming the lives of women suffering from a painful and grossly disabling side-effect of breast cancer treatment.

The liposuction procedure literally sucks fat from the body. It is being used to remove up to two litres of fat from the arms of cancer patients who have had their lymph glands surgically removed to prevent the disease spreading.

Loss of the glands can cause lymphoedema which affects the body's natural drainage system, inhibiting the flow of colourless lymph fluid, which plays a key role in the immune system

About 7,000 British women a year develop lymphoedema after undergoing breast cancer surgery. Some are so badly affected that they become lopsided and cannot find clothes to fit. At present the condition is usually treated with compression bandages and exercise.

The new operation has been pioneered in Sweden by Dr Haken Brorson at the department of plastic and reproductive surgery at the University of Malmo.

Speaking about the first 64 operations, he said: "We removed, typically, about two litres of fat from the arms of these patients via liposuction. After two weeks, their arm swelling was reduced by 72 per cent, by 80 per cent at one month, 88 per cent at three months, 93 per cent at six months and 98 per cent after one year.

"The reduction subsequently continued slowly and at six years it was 104 per cent - the treated arm becoming a little smaller than the healthy arm. In addition, the range of movement in the shoulder joint increased, and pain and discomfort in the arm and hand diminished."

Dr Brorson added: "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."

But the liposuction patients are still advised to wear compression sleeves permanently to prevent recurrence of the problem.

The new operation has been welcomed in Britain by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund as a procedure showing "much promise" .

Gloria Freilich, founding President of Europa Donna, the European breast cancer coalition, said that lymphoedema was "a Cinderella condition" which caused extensive pain and distress.

Speaking recently at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Brussels, she said: "Commonly, patients are told that nothing can be done to help them and that they should be grateful that they've been cured of cancer - that lymphoedema is part of the price they have to pay. This is just not true.

"They're also frequently given inappropriate advice such as being told to buy a mechanical pump for the arm. Used without professional supervision, this can actually cause immense further damage by wrecking any remaining possibilities for drainage of accumulated lymph.

"Patients can be helped by timely diagnosis, appropriate treatment, advice and support," she said.

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