New camera will map out lymph node system

20 February 2017

Device will help combat a painful side effect of breast cancer treatment

A camera that will help surgeons to treat lymphoedema - a condition that affects around 20% of women who have been treated for breast cancer - has just been unveiled at Spire Parkway Hospital, Solihull.

The Photo Dynamic Eye (PDE) provides a ‘road map’ to the body’s lymphatic system (a network of channels and glands throughout the body) as surgeons operate on the condition that causes the painful swelling of body tissue- mainly in the arms or legs.

The camera which cost nearly £50,000 is now being used by Consultant Plastic Surgeon Miss Anne Dancey, who is a member of the British Lymphoedema Society and one of the UK’s leading experts on lymph node transfers. She described it as "a fantastic tool in the treatment of such a debilitating condition".

There are more than 200,000 lymphoedema suffers in the UK. According to Cancer Research UK, 20% of those affected are women who have been treated for breast cancer.

Miss Dancey explained “Lymphoedema is a build-up of lymph fluid which happens when the lymph drainage channels or lymph nodes are blocked, removed or damaged – something that can happen during cancer treatments.

“This can cause painful and unsightly swelling and usually requires patients to wear compression garments on the affected areas, normally the arms or legs.

 “To treat this I carry out lymph node transfers, taking healthy nodes from one part of the body and installing them into the problem areas where the nodes have ceased to function. In the past this procedure has contained an element of trial and error but the PDE should signal an end to all that.”

The process involves injecting fluorescent dye into the patient. Using the camera the surgeon receives a dynamic image of the lymphatic vessels and nodes, and can also check which channels are functioning properly.

Miss Dancey said “This makes it much easier for us to select the correct nodes from the donor site to reduce the risk of causing swelling of the limb that we borrow them from. These nodes can then be transferred to the problem area by reattaching their supplying artery and vein to ensure they have a blood supply and survive.

“The blood vessels we attach are about 0.3mm in diameter and we must use a microscope to reattach them as they can barely be seen with the naked eye. Once the nodes become established they can drain the clear lymphatic fluid back into the bloodstream and the swelling should, over time, reduce – in many cases almost back to normal size.”

She added “As far as I am aware this is the only camera of its sort available in the Midlands, and I think it will be a great asset in the treatment of lymphoedema in this region.”