The Christie’s pioneering lymph node transplant gives hope to cancer patients

The Christie has become the first NHS hospital in the UK to offer a groundbreaking operation that a patient says has transformed his life.

Martin Cowan, 37, had been suffering for several years from a debilitating swollen leg caused by previous cancer treatment and says he noticed an immediate difference in his condition following a pioneering transplant of healthy lymph nodes from his other leg.

He underwent the complicated surgery where the nodes were transplanted and revascularised earlier this year. His surgeon, Deemesh Oudit, says he is delighted with the results and is planning further procedures on other patients suffering from lymphedema (swelling of the arms and/or legs).

Martin said: “Within two days of the surgery I began to notice a difference. The swelling in my leg had reduced dramatically. I am being monitored and it is still reducing in size. I feel as if I’ve been given my leg back.”

In 2001, at the age of 20, Martin had found a lump at the top of his left thigh and was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. This was treated successfully with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Nine years later, in 2010, Martin’s leg started swelling noticeably and he was told it was lymphedema, caused by the removal of, or damage to, lymph nodes as part of his cancer treatment.

Martin, who lives in Manchester city centre with his partner Eleni, found his mobility was severely restricted and he could not take part in the football and cricket that he had enjoyed.

Because lab technician Martin was being treated for his lymphedema at The Christie under senior physiotherapist Julie Kenyon, he was identified as a potential patient for Mr Oudit’s first lymph node transplant.

Lymphedema is fairly common in cancer patients where the lymph nodes have been damaged or removed during treatment and high-protein fluid collects just beneath the skin. Traditional treatment for managing the condition is decongestive lymphatic therapy including compression bandages, light exercise and massage.

Transferring healthy lymph nodes is a new treatment in the UK but has been employed in other countries. Mr Oudit’s operation on Martin was the first time the surgery has taken place in an NHS hospital.

Martin added: “I am eternally grateful to Mr Oudit and I want to say thank you to all the staff at The Christie, they are amazing people.”

Mr Oudit added: “This surgery is very new in the UK. We have had a very positive result with Martin and it is promising for patients who have been suffering from this type of chronic condition for a long time.”