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Surgery for Lymphedema

Although there is no cure for lymphedema, certain treatments can help reduce symptoms. At NYU Langone, surgical and laser treatments are used when severe secondary lymphedema has resulted from cancer treatments and doesn’t improve with less invasive therapies.

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Low Level Laser Therapy

If you have lymphedema as a result of surgery, our doctors may recommend low level laser therapy to remove lymph nodes. It can help improve the range of motion in an affected arm and lessen swelling and tightness.

In this treatment, infrared lasers penetrate affected tissues to change the cells causing inflammation, thereby reducing swelling and skin tightness.

The procedure is performed in the hospital, and you can go home the same day.


Reconstructive microsurgeons sometimes treat symptoms of mild to severe lymphedema caused by breast cancer treatments using state-of-the-art microsurgical techniques.

Vascularized Lymph Node Transfer

At NYU Langone, reconstructive microsurgeons may use a technique called vascularized lymph node transfer, in which healthy nonessential lymph nodes from the groin or other parts of the body are removed and transplanted to the armpit. The surgeon uses a microscope to operate on very small structures, such as blood vessels.

Performed with general anesthesia, this technique is designed to connect transplanted lymph nodes with lymph vessels in the chest and arm so that the nodes can begin filtering waste and draining fluid accumulated in the arm.

The surgery takes three hours and requires a one- to two-day hospital stay. Recovery at home takes two weeks, and your doctor may restrict your activity, including limiting what you can lift to items less than 10 pounds.

Lymphatico Venous Bypass

Lymphatico venous bypass surgery can alleviate the symptoms of secondary lymphedema by connecting lymphatic vessels that lead to the veins in affected areas. In this intricate microsurgery performed with general anesthesia, blocked lymphatic vessels are surgically attached to small vessels called venules, which lead to larger veins. This can help drain stagnant lymph fluid. In this “super microsurgery,” even the tiniest vessels can be repaired.

The surgery takes two hours to complete and typically requires no overnight stay in the hospital.

Our Research and Education in Lymphedema

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.