Liposuction helps manage lymphedema in head and neck cancer

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Liposuction is a simple, uncomplicated, and well-tolerated surgical technique for the treatment of persistent submental lymphedema in patients with a previous head and neck cancer, a small study has demonstrated.

Submental lymphedema, which affects the area under the chin and commonly develops among persons who have undergone treatment for head and neck cancer, causes fluid deposition and persistent swelling of the soft tissues of the neck. This leads to disfigurement and functional deficits, according to a statement issued by the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, which published the study results in the association's journal, Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery (2012;146[6]:1028-1030).

As S. Mark Taylor, MD, and Maria Brake, MD, of Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, noted in their report, the use of liposuction for submental and cervical lymphedema had never been described in the literature to their knowledge. The pair performed submental liposuction on 10 patients experiencing persistent lymphedema after having undergone radiotherapy for a head and neck malignancy. Five patients had previous neck dissection, one of which was radical. All of the participants had been cancer-free for at least 1 year prior to the liposuction. The procedure involved an incision being made into the neck, after which liposuction was applied to remove fat and fluid from the treatment area.

All the patients tolerated the procedure well under local anesthesia, with no complications by the time Taylor and Brake wrote up their findings. No recurrences in the neck had developed, and all 10 patients reported being satisfied with the results and said they would recommend the procedure it to other patients.

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