New Diagnostic Equipment Helps Breast Cancer Patients Manage Lymphedema

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Jill Chadwick

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             Lymphedema is a chronic condition that can happen to breast cancer patients when their surgery includes removal of lymph nodes.  Pamela Nickerson, diagnosed with breast cancer, has a friend with severe lymphedema. “Her arm is three and four times the size it should be and she can barely move it,” Nickerson said.  “It’s also painful.”

            But at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, nurse navigators are giving patients like Nickerson new hope with two new tools to detect lymphedema early.

            “Early detection is key!” Mary Jo Ward, RN, clinical nurse coordinator for the Lymphedema Prevention Clinic at The University of Kansas Cancer Center at Westwood said. “If we can catch them before the big swelling is happening, then we can usually find ways to reduce it by doing some simple things at home and they never get to the place where they have advanced disease symptoms.”

            Ward used a “Perometer” to measure Nickerson’s arm circumference prior to surgery which provides a baseline so subtle changes in the arm will be detected early.

            Sabrina Korentager, RN, clinical nurse coordinator for the Lymphedema Prevention Clinic at The University of Kansas Cancer Center at Indian Creek, does a similar baseline for cancer patients using a machine call “LDex”. LDex works like an EKG … measuring the lymphatic flow in a patient. She tells patients to think of how a sponge absorbs water.  “The sponge doesn’t change shape until it’s full of water,” Korentager explained. “LDex helps us get a baseline so we can detect fluid changes in the arm before the swelling happens and then women can learn to manage their condition better.” 

            Korentager is also participating in research on the effects of early detection of lymphedema.  So far, she says the results are very promising.  The Perometer baseline test is a part of the services provided at The University of Kansas Cancer Center and most insurance covers the LDex test.  Hear more from the patient and nurses in the video below and see the tests in action.