Mercy Receives Komen Grant to Further Lymphedema Detection

SPRINGFIELD — Mercy Medical Center has been awarded a $40,000 grant from the Massachusetts affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure to provide free education and lymphedema screening for 250 breast-cancer patients at the Mercy Breast Care Center.

Under terms of the grant, the Breast Care Center will also collaborate with other hospitals and health care providers and agencies, as well as Russian, Vietnamese, African-American, and Hispanic minority groups, to advance early and regular lymphedema screening for breast-cancer survivors, beginning with a pre-surgical baseline assessment.

A progressive, pathological condition of the lymphatic system that is characterized by an accumulation of protein-rich fluid and associated inflammation, lymphedema is a chronic physical impairment that can impact survivors’ functions in the home and at work, and creates a number of secondary issues related to cosmetics and the quality of life. If detected in the early stage, lymphedema can be treated and resolved in nearly all cases. Although nearly 50{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of all breast-cancer survivors develop lymphedema, most are uninsured or underinsured for the cost of lymphedema screening, and the condition frequently goes undetected until a survivor presents with physical symptoms.

The screenings are painless and will be performed at the Breast Care Center using a non-invasive device that is sensitive enough to detect lymphedema before it is visible. The target population will include recently diagnosed patients at Mercy’s Breast Care Center and breast-cancer patients of other surgeons at Mercy Medical Center. All breast-cancer survivors will also receive education on the risk factors of lymphedema, the importance of early detection, and problems associated with the advanced stages of the condition.

“Just as every woman must be concerned about breast-cancer screenings, every breast-cancer survivor must be as vigilant about prospective lymphedema screenings,” said Dr. Steven Schonholz, medical director of the Mercy Breast Care Center. “Breast-cancer survivors continue to be at risk for preventable, lifelong, physical impairments from upper-extremity lymphedema. The principal reason is the ‘detection gap.’ Clinical diagnosis of lymphedema generally is not established until the swelling becomes visible or the degree of dysfunction and impairment is so severe that the survivor is unable to function well within her home or work settings.”

Schonholz will also launch an outreach effort to educate a broad group of medical providers in Western Mass. about the prospective assessment and management of upper-extremity lymphedema in breast-cancer survivors as the new, evidence-based standard of care. Additionally, Mercy Medical Center will partner with several community-based organizations in the region to educate and inform minority women about the importance of early screening of lymphedema for breast cancer survivors.

“Dr. Schonholz is a leader in the field of lymphedema research, detection, and treatment,” said Dr. William Bithoney, chief medical officer of the Sisters of Providence Heath System and chief operating officer of Mercy Medical Center. “This grant will allow him to reach a wider audience in efforts to minimize the occurrences and debilitating effects of this often-preventable condition.”

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