By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Philadelphia doctors have found a way to treat an especially difficult side effect of breast cancer surgery.

Breast cancer patient Cynthia Dembofsky had lymphedema, a common side effect when lymph nodes are removed that causes excessive arm swelling. It got so bad that Cynthia, a neonatologist, couldn’t work with her tiny patients.

“We have to put IVs in them, catheters, intubation. It’s very fine work that we’re doing,” said Cynthia.

Compression sleeves and other treatments only have limited success.

Lymphedema also happens in the legs, after other kinds of cancer surgery.

“When you remove the lymph nodes, fluid backs up in the extremities,” said Dr. Suhail Kanchwala, a plastic surgeon at Penn Medicine. He says removing lymph nodes, which are located in a variety of locations, also increases the risk for infections.

“It can be very debilitating,” said Dr. Kanchwala.

Cynthia is among the first 18 patients to have a revolutionary new kind of treatment, lymph node transfer, that’s being performed by Dr. Kanchwala. It’s helping relieve lymphedema in the arms and legs.

“What we’re doing is taking lymph nodes from an area where they’re in excess and putting them back where they once were,” said Dr. Kanchwala.

The surgery doesn’t work for everyone, but it did for Cynthia. The swelling is gone, and she’s back with her babies.

“I am amazed by the pioneers that constantly are bringing new therapies forward. This has given me optimism for the future, that this life I planned and enjoy of taking care of both my family and my patients, can carry on for a long time,” said Cynthia.

Penn is following the lymph transfer patients to determine if the improvements will last. And because it’s so new, they don’t know yet which cancer patients will benefit.

For more information, call Penn Plastic Surgery at 215-662-7300 or visit:

Top Content On CBSPhilly

Watch & Listen LIVE