Lymphedema

We offer the latest advancements to prevent and treat lymphedema in Indiana

Lymph nodes are an important part of your immune system that remove toxins from your bloodstream.

When lymph nodes are damaged by cancer surgery or radiation, a fluid buildup called lymphedema causes swelling in arms or legs. Lymphedema is most common in the arms of breast cancer patients.

Patients with breast cancer who have a mastectomy or lumpectomy with lymph node dissection and radiation have a 30 percent higher chance of developing lymphedema.

While lymphedema is incurable, it is treatable. It is even preventable through an innovative plastic microsurgery procedure called LYMPHA. LYMPHA is offered only at a few hospitals in the country, including IU Health.

Understanding Lymphedema

Patients with breast cancer who have a mastectomy or lumpectomy with lymph node dissection and radiation have a 30 percent higher chance of developing lymphedema.

While lymphedema is incurable, it is treatable. It is even preventable through an innovative plastic microsurgery procedure called LYMPHA. LYMPHA is offered only at a few hospitals in the country, including IU Health.

Symptoms of lymphedema can range from minor and manageable to severe and requiring surgery. Symptoms include:

  • Localized swelling, most commonly of the arms or legs
  • Pain
  • Restricted limb movement
  • Recurring infections
  • Skin thickening

What are Symptoms of Lymphedema?

Symptoms of lymphedema can range from minor and manageable to severe and requiring surgery. Symptoms include:

  • Localized swelling, most commonly of the arms or legs
  • Pain
  • Restricted limb movement
  • Recurring infections
  • Skin thickening

Lymphatic Microsurgical Preventive Healing Approach (LYMPHA) offers patients with breast cancer an option to reduce the risk of developing lymphedema.

The specialists at IU Health are the only ones in the state who perform this surgery. It is completed at the same time of a lumpectomy or mastectomy when lymph nodes are removed.

During LYMPHA, highly specialized microsurgeons reconnect lymphatic vessels directly to veins to prevent abnormal lymph flow. LYMPHA may reduce the risk of developing lymphedema. It has been a successful prevention method for patients at IU Health.

How LYMPHA Works

Lymph node surgery in breast cancer treatment may disrupt lymphatic vessels from the arm and cause lymphedema. During the LYMPHA procedure, lymphatic vessels from the arm are connected into veins using a surgical microscope to decrease the risk of lymphedema.

How LYMPHA works

Prevention

Lymphatic Microsurgical Preventive Healing Approach (LYMPHA) offers patients with breast cancer an option to reduce the risk of developing lymphedema.

The specialists at IU Health are the only ones in the state who perform this surgery. It is completed at the same time of a lumpectomy or mastectomy when lymph nodes are removed.

During LYMPHA, highly specialized microsurgeons reconnect lymphatic vessels directly to veins to prevent abnormal lymph flow. LYMPHA may reduce the risk of developing lymphedema. It has been a successful prevention method for patients at IU Health.

How LYMPHA Works

Lymph node surgery in breast cancer treatment may disrupt lymphatic vessels from the arm and cause lymphedema. During the LYMPHA procedure, lymphatic vessels from the arm are connected into veins using a surgical microscope to decrease the risk of lymphedema.

How LYMPHA works

In the United States, the most common lymphedema is caused by breast cancer treatment. Compression and physical therapy are the non-surgical treatments recommended for the swollen limbs, but advanced lymphedema can be further treated through plastic surgery.

IU Health is one of a few health systems offering microsurgery to treat lymphedema. There are three types of surgical treatment for lymphedema:

Lymphovenous anastomosis (LVA)

LVA is the least invasive outpatient procedure available for treating lymphedema. LVA bypasses injured lymphatics by connecting lymphatics to veins.

LVA - Lymphovenous anastomosis
LVA directly connects the lymphatic vessels in the affected area of the body to the tiny veins nearby.

Vascularized lymph node transfer

Vascularized lymph node transfer can improve lymphedema by transferring your own lymph nodes from one part of the body to the area with lymphedema.

Lymph node transfers
IU Health offers lymph node transfers for patients with lymphedema.

Liposuction

Liposuction is a surgical option to remove the abnormal fat deposits causing swelling in the limb. Liposuction can be used alongside a microsurgery or can be used for patients who aren’t candidates for other surgical treatments.

Liposuction
Liposuction is a surgical option used to reduce swelling in the limb.

What are Treatment Options for Lymphedema?

In the United States, the most common lymphedema is caused by breast cancer treatment. Compression and physical therapy are the non-surgical treatments recommended for the swollen limbs, but advanced lymphedema can be further treated through plastic surgery.

IU Health is one of a few health systems offering microsurgery to treat lymphedema. There are three types of surgical treatment for lymphedema:

Lymphovenous anastomosis (LVA)

LVA is the least invasive outpatient procedure available for treating lymphedema. LVA bypasses injured lymphatics by connecting lymphatics to veins.

LVA - Lymphovenous anastomosis
LVA directly connects the lymphatic vessels in the affected area of the body to the tiny veins nearby.

Vascularized lymph node transfer

Vascularized lymph node transfer can improve lymphedema by transferring your own lymph nodes from one part of the body to the area with lymphedema.

Lymph node transfers
IU Health offers lymph node transfers for patients with lymphedema.

Liposuction

Liposuction is a surgical option to remove the abnormal fat deposits causing swelling in the limb. Liposuction can be used alongside a microsurgery or can be used for patients who aren’t candidates for other surgical treatments.

Liposuction
Liposuction is a surgical option used to reduce swelling in the limb.

If you are interested in discussing your options for breast cancer-related lymphedema surgery, meet with one of our physicians.

Find a Provider

If you decide surgery is not right for you, we have a team who will partner with you to develop a treatment plan that addresses your specific lymphedema symptoms. This could include:

  • Skin care
  • Compression bandaging
  • Manual lymphatic drainage
  • Therapeutic exercises
  • Compression garments

Lymphedema has a large impact on a patient’s life and is a life-long disease. At IU Health, we work with you to develop a unique treatment plan focused on healing you as a whole person—emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Non-Surgical Treatment Options

If you decide surgery is not right for you, we have a team who will partner with you to develop a treatment plan that addresses your specific lymphedema symptoms. This could include:

  • Skin care
  • Compression bandaging
  • Manual lymphatic drainage
  • Therapeutic exercises
  • Compression garments

Lymphedema has a large impact on a patient’s life and is a life-long disease. At IU Health, we work with you to develop a unique treatment plan focused on healing you as a whole person—emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Infographic: What is Lymphedema?
Download Lymphedema Infographic (PDF)

Infographic: What is Lymphedema?

Infographic: What is Lymphedema?
Download Lymphedema Infographic (PDF)

Patient Stories for Lymphedema