Surgery or radiotherapy for breast cancer can cause lymphoedema, a swelling in the arms and chest from the accumulation of lymph fluid in tissues affected by the treatment. As the therapies often damage or destroy the many lymph vessels and nodes present under armpits and on the breast bone, lymph builds-up in surrounding tissue as it can’t re-enter the lymphatic system – responsible for delivering immune cells to tissues and draining the body of waste products. Now researchers have found that halting lymph flow in laboratory mice negatively impacts on the development of their entire lymphatic system, hindering the development of healthy valves and contracting muscle cells in lymphatic vessels. They require direct stimulation from the physical pressure generated by the flow of fluid to stay healthy. The insight could lead to a better management of lymphoedema if new ways of restoring lymph flow after surgery are developed.
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