Prehab and rehab scans at UCHealth help breast cancer patients
Milner resident and current breast cancer patient Amy Flynn did not think much about the standard pre-surgery appointment she had for “prehab” at UCHealth SportsMed Clinic, but that baseline testing turned out to be very helpful to prevent a serious complication after surgery.
Using data from a SOZO system, or a noninvasive bioimpedance spectroscopy machine, Jodi Bringuel, a certified lymphedema therapist determined that Flynn had fluid retention in her chest after surgery that could lead to dangerous and painful lymphedema.
“It’s just an early opportunity to make sure things are healing properly after your surgery,” Flynn said of the SOZO scan.
Flynn was impressed with the technology because although she felt the swelling building up, she thought that was acceptable after surgery.
“Jodi works me through getting the swelling down so that I could continue treatment,” said Flynn, who will start radiation treatments in Vail this week.
According to the National Lymphedema Network at Lymphnet.org, lymphedema is an abnormal collection of lymphatic fluid in the tissues just beneath the skin that develops where lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes are missing or impaired and become overloaded with fluid.
“If you can catch it early on with the very sensitive technology that we have within the first weeks or months of it developing, it can be reversable,” Bringuel said.
The SOZO equipment sends a very mild electrical current through the body to measure resistance and reactance. The measurement is non-invasive, painless and takes less than 30 seconds. The technology can determine various factors in a detailed body composition analysis such as fluid retention, body mass index, skeletal muscle mass and hydration status.
“If they have lower than normal skeletal muscle mass and higher than normal fat mass, those things can lead to increased fall risk and mobility issues in addition to increases in cancer reoccurrence rates,” Bringuel said. “This can be a huge motivating tool for people to have this information and know if they need to focus on strength or hydration levels to know what they need to do to return to normal activity to increase their quality of life.”
Lymphedema rates have dropped through the years due to improved surgical and radiation techniques, Bringuel noted.
“Most patients have sentinel node biopsies where they inject a dye and look for the first node(s) that specifically drain the breast. This technique allows the surgeon to take out the least number of nodes with the greatest amount of accuracy to detect the spread of cancer,” Bringuel explained.
Binguel said fortunately, with a local team of clinicians helping breast cancer patients, the complication of a lymphedema diagnosis is low in the Yampa Valley.
“The low lymphedema number in our community is credited to our comprehensive program working together with the breast health center, surgeons, nurse navigators, oncologists and social workers to make sure that we are addressing every issue to help our patients achieve full recovery as quickly and safely as possible,” said Bringuel, who also acknowledged fellow lymphedema therapist Lindsey Grignon.
A physical therapist at YVMC for 20 years, Bringuel said testing for lymphedema started in 2006 followed by a breast cancer rehab program in 2009 before the hospital secured a bioimpedance machine in 2012. That first-generation machine required patients to be hooked up to electrodes and lay down for 20 minutes to get a reading.
SportsMed was able to upgrade to the SOZO system in September thanks to funding from the nonprofit Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project, also known as the Bust of Steamboat. The group encourages local business participation and community events in October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month to raise funds for similar breast cancer assistance efforts.
The new SOZO equipment is so sensitive that it can pick up changes in fluid levels of just a couple of tablespoons when comparing a person’s healthy limb to the at-risk limb, Bringuel said. The goal is to compare snapshots of the body’s condition through time via SOZO so that cancer patients can tolerate treatments as much as possible, she said.
The SOZO technology is used to test breast cancer patients for lymphedema quarterly for the first three years, then every six months for two more years and annually after that as lymphedema may occur later.
“Education is such a big part of our program so that people know what is normal and what is not normal when they are going through their surgery and different treatments,” Bringuel said. “Because patients expect to have side effects from cancer treatment, they may ignore something that they think is normal from treatment.”
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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