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Breast Cancer Patients to Benefit from New Lymphedema Detection and Prevention Program at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 23, 2010 – Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC is launching a Lymphedema Screening, Early Detection and Prevention Program this month to help breast cancer patients with the most potential for developing this treatment-related complication. Lymphedema, one of the most common complications breast cancer patients face, is a chronic and progressive condition that causes swelling in the limbs, increasing a patient’s risk for infection and often affecting her quality of life.

“Currently, there is no mechanism in place to screen women who are most at risk for developing lymphedema,” said Atilla Soran, M.D., professor of surgery with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and director of the program. “It is our hope that this program will help us identify at-risk patients before any swelling is obvious, so we can then implement a variety of educational and prevention strategies to minimize and manage the lymphedema.”

The program will incorporate bioimpedance spectroscopy technology created by ImpediMed Limited to aid in the clinical assessment of at-risk breast cancer patients. This technology can accurately measure extracellular fluid in a patient’s limb, which can assist physicians in assessing early signs of lymphedema. Patients who participate in the program will have their arms measured before treatment and at regular intervals afterward because lymphedema can occur weeks, months and even years after treatment.

“The ability to detect the earliest signs of lymphedema is critical to our program,” said Dr. Soran. “While lymphedema can’t be cured, intervention strategies such as exercise, physical therapy, weight loss and laser treatments can successfully control its progression.”

The highest incidence of lymphedema in the U.S. occurs following breast cancer surgery, particularly among those who undergo radiation therapy following lymph node surgery. Among this group, up to 30 percent of patients develop some degree of upper extremity lymphedema. While there are differing degrees of severity, lymphedema can severely affect a person’s quality of life, with complications ranging from fatigue, impairment of daily activities, recurrent bacterial infections and embarrassment due to the size and shape of the affected limb.

“In addition to the physical complications lymphedema causes, it is expensive to manage,” said Dr. Soran. “Approximately $3 billion a year is spent on managing lymphedema, and that number doesn’t include the cost of a patient’s disabilities, loss of wages or pain management. We hope our program is able not only to improve the lives of our patients but also to reduce the cost burden of lymphedema."

Funding to start the Lymphedema Screening, Early Detection and Prevention Program was provided by the Magee-Womens Hospital Volunteer Service Board.

About Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC

Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC is a full-service women’s hospital and includes a range of services for women and men: diagnostic imaging, including CT and MRI, a heart center, bariatric surgery, orthopaedics, digestive disorders, comprehensive breast and gynecologic cancer services, pulmonology, thoracic surgery, minimally invasive abdominal surgery, vascular surgery and a full-service emergency department.

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