Apr 23, 2009 09:44AM - edited Apr 23, 2009 09:45AM by kira
We've looked into this surgery, and bc.org has evaluated the study as well, and unfortunately it is not a cure, and is considered experimental and not covered by insurance: I recently spoke to Dr. Chang's office and here's our info from StepupSpeakout:Lymphaticovenular Bypass for Management of Lymphedema in Breast Cancer Patients: A Prospective Analysis
David W. Chang, M.D.; MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston TX
"Purpose: Lymphedema is a common and debilitating condition following surgical and/or radiation therapy for breast cancer. However, lymphedema is difficult to manage and surgical options have been limited and controversial. The purpose of this prospective study is to provide preliminary analysis of lymphaticovenular bypass for upper limb lymphedema in patients with breast cancer.
Methods: Twenty consecutive patients with lymphedema of upper extremity secondary to treatment of breast cancer who underwent lymphaticovenular bypass using "super-microsurgical" approach from December 2005 to September 2008 were evaluated. Mean age was 54 years. Of 20 patients 16 patients had received preoperative XRT and all patients had received axillary lymph node dissection. All patients presented with stage 2 or 3 lymphedema with mean duration of 4.8 years and the mean volume differential of lymphedema arm compared to unaffected arm of 34%. Evaluation included qualitative assessment and quantitative volumetric analysis prior to surgery, at 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and at 1 year following the procedure. All data were collected prospectively.
Results: Mean number of bypasses performed on each patient was 3.5 and the size of bypasses ranged from 0.3 mm to 0.8 mm. Mean operative time was 3.3 hours (2 to 5 hours). Hospital stay was < 24 hours in all patients. Mean follow up was 18 months. Of 20 patients, 19 patients reported significant clinical improvement following the procedure. Mean volume reduction at 1 month was 29%, at 3 months 36%, at 6 month 39%, and at 1 year was 35% (Fig 1). In 3 patients with clinical improvement, no significant quantitative improvement was noted. There were no postoperative complications or exacerbation of lymphedema.
Conclusion: Lymphaticovenular bypass using "super-microsurgical" approach appear to be effective in improving the severity of lymphedema in patients with breast cancer. Long term analysis is needed."
Here's a link to the abstract: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19052859
Comments by the StepUp-SpeakOut Editorial Board:
Note the small number of patients on whom this technique was performed: 20 women with LE following BC treatment. Of those 20 patients, 19 reported "clinical" improvement (presumably qualitative assessment of some sort) after the bypass surgery. Sixteen of the 19 patients who reported a "clinical" improvement also had a significant "quantitative" improvement (presumably a reduction in arm volume measurement); but the other 3 who had a "clinical" improvement did not have a significant improvement in quantitative measurements. The patients were followed for 18 months after their bypass surgeries, but data are only reported for 1 year post-bypass surgery.
It's an interesting but preliminary study. They need greater numbers of patients and more follow-up time (and perhaps a more comprehensive assessment) to see if this really works. Also, there is no mention whether other, conventional LE therapy was provided to those women while they were recovering from their bypass surgery. (For a fuller explanation, see the analysis of an article about this procedure at BreastCancer.org from which we quote:
"Lymphaticovenular bypass surgery is difficult to do and requires special surgical training. This may be one reason why it's not a common lymphedema treatment. While the women in this study did receive some benefit from the surgery, the decrease in arm size didn't last and none of the women were considered cured of lymphedema. More, larger studies are needed to see if the results last over time, as well to figure out if the surgery works for a variety of women. " [Emphasis supplied]
We have written to Dr. Chang and he was quick to respond and interested in conveying information. This is what we learned:
They measure by volume displacement;
The surgery is not curative;
The surgery is currently considered experimental and not covered by Medicare or insurance;
Dr. Chang is committed to helping women with LE:
Here's the review of the literature from bc.org
It's interesting that the link above is to an injury lawyer. LE is collateral damage, but I'm not aware of people initiating lawsuits around it.