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Surrey hospital to perform first surgery of its kind in B.C. to help prevent lymphedema

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A Surrey, B.C. hospital will be the first in the province to perform a kind of microsurgery that helps prevent lymphedema, a chronic condition that affects many cancer patients.

Earlier this month, the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre secured the province’s first ultra-high magnification microscope and a new camera system, both of which are needed to perform the complex vascularized lymph node transfer (VLNT) procedure.

The new tools will also allow the hospital to perform lymphatic to vein bypass procedures and expand its breast health clinic.

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Dr. Imran Ratanshi, a lead microsurgeon for the Fraser Health Authority, said the new additions are “incredible.”

“At present, there really isn’t a great treatment option for lymphedema,” he explained.

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“In fact, we’re really in the management phase of lymphedema and if that doesn’t go well then the lymphedema will cause permanent changes in the involved limb.”

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Lymphedema can occur when the lymph nodes are removed, and in Canada, is caused most often by treatment for breast, melanoma, head and neck cancers, sarcoma, or direct traumatic injury to lymphatic channels.

It’s a chronic condition whose symptoms can include swelling, pain, skin thickening or scarring, recurring infections, and restricted range of motion.

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The new microscope and Spy Phi camera system were secured with help from a $1.5 million investment from the Surrey Hospitals Foundation, timed with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

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Ratanshi and Dr. Jennifer Prince will perform the vascularized lymph node transfer procedure, which is only done in a few medical centres around the world.

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Ratanshi said the new procedure will help “prevent or dramatically reduce” the odds of local patients developing lymphedema.

“There’s an ongoing large number of patients who are uniquely high-risk for developing lymphedema that we want to be able to treat,” he said.

“You have to start somewhere and this is that first foot forward in being able to offer a new level of reconstruction along the cancer care continuum for breast cancer patients.”

Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 10:40 a.m. PST on Oct. 5, 2021. The hospital initially said it would be the first in Canada to perform the procedure, and later revised its statement to the first in the province.

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