Physicians can use a new imaging technique to effective monitor lymphedema in breast cancer survivors after surgery, according to a study published in Biomedical Optics Express (2010 Aug;1(1):114-125).

In a study aimed to help physicians ease lymphedema, a common side effect of cancer treatments, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston (UTHSC) developed a method to monitor the effectiveness of lymphedema treatments in a more sensitive and immediate way. The new method, a near-infrared fluorescence imaging technique, was designed to examine the blockages or damages in the lymphatic system that prevent fluid from circulating through the body.

To test their tool, researchers recruited six women with lymphedema and three without and injected the near-infrared fluorescent dye into the women. Then, when researchers exposed the tissue surfaces to a dim, near-infrared laser, the dye’s transit through the lymphatic system was revealed.

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Researchers reported that the near-infrared fluorescence technique detected statistically significant improvements in fluid flow through the lymphatic system immediately after the use of compression devices.

“The problem is that there has been no good way to measure direct evidence of benefit,” said Eva Sevick, PhD, Director of the Center for Molecular Imaging at UTHSC. “Hopefully we can use near-infrared fluorescence imaging technique to show improved lymphatic function from these treatments.”