Vascularized lymph node transfer is an intricate microsurgical procedure for patients with advanced lymphedema. At Intermountain Cancer Centers, our plastic surgeon with special training in lymphedema harvests healthy lymph nodes from areas unaffected by cancer treatment, microsurgically transplanting them as vascularized flaps (sections of tissue with veins and arteries) to replace damaged or missing lymph nodes.

The procedure

  1. While the patient is under general anesthesia, the surgeon makes an incision in or near the healthy site, carefully selecting vessels and lymph nodes with the aid of a surgical microscope.
  2. The targeted healthy lymph nodes are removed along with veins, arteries, and some surrounding tissue.
  3. The surgeon removes the damaged tissue at the recipient site, and then transfers the targeted lymph nodes to the recipient site where the intact blood vessels are reconnected. The transferred nodes can then absorb and collect the lymphatic fluid that was previously blocked.

After the procedure

After this reconstructive surgery, lymphedema therapy is continued to help improve the flow of lymphatic fluid in the affected area as the body heals. The goal is to achieve reduced swelling, increased mobility, restored physical appearance, and decreased risk for infection.