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Post breast surgery syndrome

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February 13, 2003
by Shannon Moss

For many patients who undergo surgery for breast cancer, the road to recovery can be painful. Post-breast surgery syndrome involves a range of symptoms that affect the quality of life-- and has been linked to a longer-term problem known as Lymphedema.

But there's some promising new research on the syndrome going on.  Ann Creamer is getting a high-powered massage. Not at a spa but at the lymphedema center at Mercy Hospital.

Ann is a breast cancer survivor. During a routine mammogram, in November 1998, doctors found a malignant tumor. She had a lumpectomy combined with chemotherapy and radiation. Five years later Ann has developed swelling known as lymphedema and post breast surgery syndrome or PBSS.

"When I first came here I had this cord in my armpit, a very pronounced cord that was hard and it prevented me from lifting my arm up to the full extent and it was uncomfortable," Creamer said.

Ann isn't alone. Many patients develop the syndrome. Symptoms include chest, breast and shoulder pain, edema, or swelling of the chest wall and limited range of motion of the affected shoulder. But some patients also get lymphedema, a long-term condition in which lymphatic fluid causes swelling in the body's tissues.

Gayle Hickok is Ann’s therapist and a lymphedema specialist. Since the early 1990's she has been working with patients to devise better ways of treating PBSS. Gayle believes that manual methods are extremely effective. "Number one, increase nutrition to the tissue. When you do that increase blood supply, when you increase blood supply you increase oxygen to the tissue and you assist cellular growth."

Gayle hopes this study, which she has worked three years to get a grant for, will show which treatments for PBSS are most effective for detecting and preventing lymphedema. That would ultimately make a big difference in the lives of her patients.

For Ann, it already has. "Since I've been coming here the tissue is soft and I have much more length of reach in my arm than I had before. The relief has been excellent, just wonderful."

posted at 10:30AM by dave.miller@walb.com

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