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Anti-inflammatory drug effective for treating lymphedema symptoms


Two early-stage clinical trials led by Stanford researchers have shown that ketoprofen can improve skin damage in patients with lymphedema.

For more than three decades, Lisa Hanson did her best to hide the unsightly fluid retention in her left leg that caused uncomfortable swelling and made her skin taut and thickened. At 17, when she was first diagnosed with lymphedema, she threw out her shorts and dresses and began a lifelong journey of wearing compression hose up to her thigh and using an electric sleevelike pump every night to control the swelling.

Now, with a new treatment in hand, she’s actually excited to tell people about this chronic condition, which before, she said, left her feeling like “a freak.”

“For a long time I couldn’t talk to people about my lymphedema without crying because it’s something weird and obscure,” Hanson said. “Now there is hope for people like me with this disease.”

Hanson took part in one of two small clinical trials led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine which showed that ketoprofen, an inflammation-reducing drug available by prescription and currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, can effectively treat symptoms of lymphedema and help ease the daily burden of care.

“Ketoprofen restores the health and elasticity of the skin,” said Stanley Rockson, MD, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford. “I believe it will reduce recurrent infection. It can also reduce swelling.”

A paper describing the findings of the two clinical trials was published Oct. 18 in JCI Insight. Rockson is the lead author. Mark Nicolls, MD, professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Stanford, is his principal collaborator. They both served as corresponding authors for the manuscript.

“So many patients have gone through decades being told there is no medical treatment,” said Rockson, who holds the Allan and Tina Neill Professorship of Lymphatic Research and Medicine. “Now, they can go to a drugstore and get a pill with a doctor’s prescription. This new treatment doesn’t cure lymphedema, but our studies show it has the capacity to make the illness more livable, more workable.”

Painful swelling

Lymphedema is a common but often ignored condition that stems from a damaged lymphatic system and results in unsightly swelling in one or more parts of the body, usually the legs. It can be hereditary or it can occur after a surgical procedure, infection, radiation or other physical trauma. The swelling, caused by a buildup of lymph fluid within the various layers of the skin, increases the risk of infections and can cause debilitating pain and a thickening of the skin that can restrict movement. There is no cure, and there has been no drug therapy available.

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