Up to 40 per cent of women who have breast cancer surgery will develop lymphoedema, a painful condition caused by fluid retention from the removal of lymph nodes.
Early detection and treatment is the key to managing the condition and a new program at Mater Private Hospital Brisbane is helping improve outcomes for women.
At the centre of the new Lymphoedema Detection Program is the SOZO machine, a $10 000 investment in new technology donated by Mater Foundation.
The machine looks like a set of scales that patients stand on. It sends a current through the body that measures the amount of cellular fluid in the body.
Mater Occupational Therapist Caitlin Ryan said the SOZO machine could detect lymphoedema in its infancy and enabled treatment to begin in its early stages, improving patient outcomes.
“Lymphoedema can become a long-term chronic condition - some women have it for the rest of their lives,” Ms Ryan said. “The most common area for swelling is the arms, but it can also occur in the chest wall. Symptoms include a heavy/achy feeling in their arms, and loss of mobility.”
Ms Ryan said treatment for lymphoedema included compression arm sleeves as well as lymphatic drainage treatments and compression pumps.
Brisbane lymphoedema patient Shelley Hobson, 52, was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2020 and developed the condition in her right arm after a mastectomy and the removal of lymph nodes.
“I’ve been fitted with a pressure garment and do self-massage and drainage,” she said.
“The SOZO machine is incredible and detected my lymphoedema early. With care from my occupational therapist, I was provided with early intervention.”
Mater Breast Care Nurse Ash Mondolo said lymphoedema had a significant impact on the psychosocial wellbeing of patients.
“Women often feel they have endured the diagnoses and the gruelling treatment and have survived the disease,” she said.
“Some women then continue to suffer latent side effects of breast cancer treatment, such as lymphoedema, which we know can significantly affect a woman’s quality of life, physically and psychologically”.
Ms Mondolo said the donation of the SOZO machine by Mater Foundation would have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of more than 700 women who are treated for breast cancer at Mater every year.
“It’s the best technology available for detecting lymphoedema and it’s already improving outcomes for patients by diagnosing the condition early so we can start treatment right away,” she said.
Find out more about lymphoedema at www.mater.org.au/health/services/mater-health-and-wellness/what-we-do/adult-therapy-services/lymphoedema.