A Canadian First For Survivors

By Humber River Hospital

Today is World Lymphedema Day, a day meant to recognize and draw attention to the disease and the effects it can have on patients. In fact, earlier last year and for the first time in Canada, a procedure meant to relieve symptoms associated with lymphedema was performed by Dr. Thomas Constantine, a plastic surgeon at Humber River Hospital.

Lymphedema is sometimes caused during the diagnosis and treatment of some cancers, when lymph nodes must be removed to test for spread of the disease. The removal is irreversible and can compromise a person’s lymphatic system, affecting the body’s ability to rid itself of toxins. Symptoms include deformity, soft tissue swelling and increased infection rates.

Patients who are grateful for the successful treatment of their cancer are often reluctant to complain about the symptoms of lymphedema, which can affect the everyday lives of entire families. Although not all lymphedema can be treated, for patients meeting the criteria, Dr. Constantine says the impact of reconstructive surgery on a patient’s quality of life can be significant.

“People suffer with this disease because they are not aware there is a potential solution. If they don’t know there is a solution, they don’t consider their problem to be one that can be solved. They assume they have to live with this disease,” says Dr. Constantine. “The exciting news is that we now have the science, the skill, and the equipment we need to improve people’s lives.”