There could be a breakthrough in the fight against breast cancer.
A new device may help diagnose a common condition after having breast cancer surgery before it becomes a major problem.
Lymph is a clear fluid that drains from the body's tissues and organs. It contains mostly protein and infection-fighting blood cells and it is filtered through lymph nodes.
A swelling called lymphedema can happen if surgery or radiation treatment affects the lymph nodes and vessels. While it's not life-threatening, it can have a major impact on your quality of life.
Mirtha Richardson is a breast cancer survivor. She underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation earlier this year.
"The emotional roller coaster was unbelievable. But I did well post-operatively. I did very well," Richardson said.
However, in the months and even years after surgery, patients like Richardson still have to worry about developing a condition called lymphedema.
Fluid builds up in the arm after lymph nodes are removed, which restricts motion and causes painful swelling that can be extreme and very noticeable.
Now doctors at Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care in New York are testing a new device that could pick up early signs of the condition.
The L-Dex uses pads like those used with an EKG. Then, a weak electrical current goes through the arm and measures any increases in fluid.
"The same current you would feel and perceive if you held a double-a battery between two fingers, so it's truly minimal and it's imperceptible," Dr. Lisa Wiechmann said.
If the L-Dex shows there is extra fluid, doctors can begin early treatments, including massage therapy or compression sleeves to keep the condition under control.
Richardson hasn't show any signs of lymphedema so far.
"I just want to be able to catch it on time. That's my main concern, be able to catch things on time," Richardson said.
As part of the study, she'll be monitored for the next three years.
Currently, doctors use a tape measure to see if there are any changes in the arm after surgery.
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Doctors at Saint Joseph's in Tampa have been using L-DEX and say you need to have a baseline test before having lymph nodes removed, so they can gauge your progress post surgery in three month intervals to see if you need lymphedema treatment. In Pinellas County, Saint Anthony's Hospital Rehab Services at Carillon Outpatient Center is in the process of adding the technology to a full-service lymphedema clinic.
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