At Last - Possible Therapy for Lymphedema

Lymphedema may have new treatment in Lymfactin

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) About one in five women has painful swelling following breast cancer surgery. There are currently only limited options for dealing with this condition - lymphedema - but that may be about to change.

A new medication - Lymfactin - is currently being tested to treat breast cancer related lymphedema. The drug will be used in combination with surgery.

"Ask your doctor about the best ways to treat lymphedema."

Pre-clinical data has been presented on Lymfactin, which is being used at the Gordon Research Conference for Molecular Mechanisms in Lymphatic Function & Disease.

“Currently there is no advanced pharmacologically-based therapeutic for lymphedema,” said principal investigator of the upcoming "first in human" trial for Lymfactin, Stanley G. Rockson, M.D., director of the Center for Lymphatic and Venous Disorders at Stanford University School of Medicine.

“Although the research Is still early, the preliminary data show a remarkable improvement in the ability to successfully conduct lymph node transplant surgery with the benefit of Lymfactin.”

Lymphedema occurs from damage or trauma to the lymph nodes that can cause blockages in the lymphatic system and result in fluid build-up. About 20 percent of patients with breast cancer suffer from the condition that can cause painful inflammation and swelling in the limbs - usually the arm closest to the breast that was treated for cancer.

The therapy with this medication involves removing a lymph node flap from the patient's lower abdomen. The lymph node is injected with Lymfactin and placed into the axillary (underarm) region. 

A number of previous laboratory and animal studies have been conducted to test the effectiveness of transferring lymph nodes. One such study showed that the transfer alone resulted in a 20 percent improvement in mice.

When the lymph node was injected with a medicine containing a gene known as vascular endothelial growth factor C (VEGF-C), overall improvement jumped to about 80 percent. Lymfactin is a VEGF-C gene therapy.

"I think this is extremely exciting," David N. Finegold, M.D., professor of pediatrics and human genetics at the University of Pittsburgh, told dailyRx.

"The current therapies for secondary lymphedema are extremely limited largely involving compression and bandaging," said Dr. Finegold, who has not been involved with these studies.

He continued, "With the significant advances in treatment of breast cancer, there may be as many as 400,000 to 600,000 women suffering from secondary lymphedema. The possibility of alleviating this concerning complication of treatment will provide hope for significant improvement in quality of life for women suffering from this condition," Dr. Finegold said.

Wendy Chaite, founder of the Lymphatic Research Foundation, a national organization devoted to advancing lymphatic research, calls this treatment "very promising," adding, “Lymphedema is one of those seldom discussed but far too common conditions that biotech and pharmaceutical companies have yet to explore."

Lymfactin is an investigational therapy being developed by Laurantis Pharma Oy in Finland. The company plans to begin a phase I/II study in early 2013.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 6, 2012
Last Updated:
March 6, 2012