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Blood test can diagnose lymphedema

Category: Cancer Detection and Tumor Markers

A recent study published in the journal PLoS ONE found that blood tests may be effective in detecting lymphedema, a condition that involves painful swelling in the skin that results from the lymph vessels being blocked.

Before blood tests, the only way to diagnose lymphedema was with a physical inspection, which commonly yielded inaccurate results. Also, there is no drug-related treatment for the condition - only physical therapy that is usually ineffective in relieving the swelling that happens in the arms or legs. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some of these therapeutic methods include massaging the skin, wearing compression stockings over the area that has developed lymphedema and exercise regimens.

During the study, Stanley Rockson, M.D., who is a professor of cardiovascular medicine, analyzed skin samples from 27 patients. Some of the skin samples were lymphedematous, while others had no signs of the disease. The investigators were able to point out six separate proteins that, when found together in certain ratios, indicated the presence of lymphedema. The researchers noted that the recent discovery may yield an effective treatment in the future. The presence of the proteins is also apparent before the lymphedema develops, so patients may be able to get early treatment to prevent more severe symptoms.

"These biomarkers may themselves lead us to valuable pharmaceutical targets," said Rockson.

To test the accuracy of these findings, the scientists analyzed blood from 15 healthy patients and 36 lymphedematous ones. They found that the new method of testing for the six proteins was 90-percent accurate.

Risk factors
Risk factors for lymphedema, according to the NIH, include infections due to parasites, injury, skin infections like cellulitis, which is more common in patients who are obese, tumors and surgery. The most common risk factor, though, is radiation therapy.

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