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Lymphedema causes swelling in limbs, sometimes to twice their size, as well as tingling, numbness and pain. Some patients have difficulty moving their arms or using their hands. Lymphedema can be uncomfortable and downright painful. Fortunately, new surgeries can open up the possibilities for lymphedema patients. With new surgical advancements, relief is a given. 

The MedStar Health Cancer Network is one of the first and only centers in in the region providing lymphedema surgery.

Now Offering Lymph Node Transfer Surgery

Sharon Lanza shares her story about lymphedema and how a lymph node transfer changed her life. 

Have Questions About Lymphedema?


Lymphedema Management 

A critical part of cancer patients' care is rehabilitation. MedStar Health is the region's leading physical therapy provider with more than 50 convenient locations and providing highly-specialized programs for patients with all types and stages of cancer.  Lymphedema management focuses on educating and instructing you with self-help techniques to begin to manage primary or secondary lymphedema independently. Management and rehabilitation has been developed based on therapists’ training and working knowledge of current medical management of primary and secondary lymphedema and related rehabilitative needs. Services by physical and occupational therapists are brought together to develop an individualized treatment plan to restore the patient to the highest level of functioning. Learn more about the Lymphedema Management Program at MedStar Health

Individualized Treatment Programs

Aspects of the treatment program include education and surgical assessments based on the patient’s needs as determined by the patient and physician. Education will include the origin of lymphedema, precautions and lifestyle modification, and current management techniques. Pre- and Post- Surgical assessments for patients at risk for secondary lymphedema include a pre- and post-operative baseline assessment of current daily functional level, flexibility, strength, and arm measurements.

Treatment Options

Lymphedema management - When lymphedema presents, the patient is offered a comprehensive approach to restore maximal level of function. Treatment may include:

  • Manual lymphatic therapy
  • Gradient compression bandaging of the limb
  • A comprehensive exercise prescription for flexibility, strength and edema management
  • Posture and breathing exercises
  • Aerobic and conditioning exercises
  • Sequential compression pump if indicated

Rehabilitation for:

  • Limited range of motion
  • Weakness of the affected limb
  • Pain
  • Correcting muscle imbalances which may have resulted from surgery
  • Fitness programs to restore pre-diagnosis activity levels

Is Lymphedema Surgery Right for You?

Your breast cancer treatment may have involved removal of the lymph nodes under your arms. Even if your lymph nodes were not removed, though, they might still have been damaged during your breast surgery. Roughly 20 percent of patients treated for breast cancer develop lymphedema, a complication caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune and circulatory systems. Sometimes it takes years for lymphedema to surface after treatment. But thanks to a life-changing lymph node transfer procedure, there is help and hope. 

If this is the case, damaged or removed lymph nodes can prevent lymph from draining normally, causing swelling in your arm.

If your arm is very swollen, you will be able to detect lymphedema immediately. But, you might not be able to see the signs at first. If you have had breast cancer surgery and you are experiencing any of these symptoms, lymphedema surgery might help you:

  • Your arm feels too tight and heavy
  • You see redness in the arm or hand and feel an accompanying pain
  • You notice your skin is a little thicker on the arms or hands
  • Your shirt, rings and wrist-wear fit more snug than usual.

Your physician will decide if surgery is right for you.

Microsurgical Procedures Provide Relief

In the past, doctors could only treat the symptoms of lymphedema. At The MedStar Health Cancer Network, we are one of the few centers to use advanced microsurgical techniques to permanently relieve the pain and swelling of lymphedema. MedStar Health offers two types of lymphedema surgery:

Lymph Node Transfer

In lymph node transfer surgery, we take healthy lymph nodes from one part of the body (typically the groin) and transfer them to the affected area of the body. Microsurgical techniques mean we only need to make tiny incisions on the hand and groin. This means no noticeable scars and quick recovery time.

Lymphovenous Bypass

In lymphovenous bypass surgery, we connect blocked lymph vessels to nearby veins, relieving the pressure. Patients who have this outpatient procedure can go home the same day and experience minimal scars and blood loss.

Location Information

For a physician referral, please call 202-877-1621.

Our Locations

MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Cancer Institute
9103 Franklin Square Drive
Baltimore, MD 21237

MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital
5601 Loch Raven Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21239

MedStar Harbor Hospital
The Cancer Center
3001 South Hanover St.
Baltimore, MD 21225

MedStar Union Memorial Hospital
3333 North Calvert St.
Johnston Professional Bldg
Baltimore, MD 21218

MedStar Health Bel Air Medical Campus
Breast Center at Bel Air
12 MedStar Blvd.
Bel Air, MD 21015
Phone: 410-515-6090

Learn More