A BREAST cancer survivor from Salisbury is one of the first in Wiltshire to have undergone cutting edge surgery to overcome lymphoedema, a common side effect from cancer treatment.

Christine Jerrom had super microscopic surgery after her arm had become so swollen from lymphoedema that she could not see the veins of her hand and wrist and was unable to enjoy gardening as any slight graze or sting could result in a skin infection.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2013, she was treated with chemotherapy, surgery to remove her lymph nodes and a lumpectomy (tissue conserving surgery). And then in 2014 she underwent a mastectomy.

“The breast cancer was traumatic but eventually, once cleared of the disease, I was able to get over it,” she said.

“Then when I was hit with lymphoedema it was, in a way, even more devastating than the cancer diagnosis, as it’s thought to have no cure.

“After it was confirmed as chronic lymphoedema, I was given a video to watch and a compression sleeve to wear every day. I was absolutely devastated.”

After researching online, Christine came across and contacted the Oxford Lymphoedema Practice (OLP) where she had a lymphography scan to show where the problems were.

OLP, a private healthcare provider, pioneered the use of the intricate surgery in the UK, and is one of three leading centres in the world, the others being in Tokyo and Genoa.

“The surgeons at OLP said I was an ideal candidate for supermicrosurgery, as I’d come to them early enough and there wasn’t too much damage to my lymphatic system,” Christine said.

“You can’t tell there’s anything wrong with my arm now and I haven’t had to wear the sleeve since. “The treatment has been a life-changer,” Christine said.

World leading reconstructive plastic surgeons from the OLP worked together in theatre for five hours - while Christine was awake.

The surgery eventually reduced the swelling by two-thirds and is now “barely noticeable”.

While microsurgery is performed beyond the limits of human sight, through the use of powerful operating microscopes, supermicrosurgery takes this idea even further.

It requires joining together tiny vessels of between 0.2mm and 0.8mm in diameter, using sutures about a fifth of the thickness of human hair thus requiring even stronger magnification, highly specialised equipment, technical expertise and training.

Dominic Furniss, associate professor of plastic surgery at the University of Oxford and one of the founding partners of the OLP, said: “Studies have shown that over four out of five people with longstanding advanced lymphoedema will still show improvements through supermicrosurgery treatment.

“In those women undergoing removal of the lymph nodes in their armpit for treatment of breast cancer, 96 per cent of those undergoing supermicrosurgery can avoid lymphoedema entirely, if the procedure is done early enough.”

Alex Ramsden, a consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon and partner at OLP, added: “Our practice is the world’s first to also be able to screen patients to establish the possibility of developing this condition, so it can be caught even before it manifests itself.”

The total cost, including hospital and surgeon fees, plus follow up, is around £15,000.