New breakthrough in detecting common breast cancer complication

A cross-section of the female anatomy.
Photo credit Rasi Bhadramani/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) —Lymphedema is a common complication for breast cancer survivors.

Dr. Nandini Kulkarni, Medical Director of Surgical Oncology for Inspira Health, said it happens when lymph nodes are removed or damaged during treatment, reducing the ability to drain excess fluid which builds up causing uncomfortable swelling in the arm and hand.

She said to imagine your swollen feet after a long hard day.

"You feel you like you're walking on cotton balls and you don't have great sensation," Dr. Kulkarni said.

"That's kind of what a lymphedema patient is likely to feel. It can be very, very uncomfortable as the lymphedema progresses and causes stretching of the skin."

She's using a device that looks like a scale found in the doctor's office, to detect even the smallest build up of fluid.

It's called the ImpediMed SOZO device.

"It has you stand on it. You have to put your hands on the scanner, pretty much like you would say in a fingerprint scanner," said Dr. Kulkarni.

"All four surfaces that you are touching by your feet and your hands are of metal. What the device does is it sends a very tiny electrical current through your body, and if you have more fluid in your body, it's easier for the electrical current to pass through your body."

The device gives a score each time and that number can be compared to the last scan.

If there is an increase, patients can then be sent to physical therapy or prescribed a compression sleeve, while symptoms are manageable.