“I believe this sparked my love for oncology,” DiCecco said.
Her interest in oncology would later combine with interest in a condition that can
be caused by cancer or cancer treatment—lymphedema. As a student, DiCecco had a clinical
rotation at a clinic that specialized in lymphedema and pelvic health conditions (incontinence
and pelvic pain diagnoses).
“Often lymphatic and pelvic dysfunctions can significantly impact one's basic needs
and activities of daily living,” DiCecco explained. “Helping a patient regain these
activities was so rewarding that I decided to pursue both of these areas when I began
practicing and my desire to learn and do more has fueled my research interests.”
Now, as an assistant professor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at PCOM Georgia, DiCecco is conducting research aimed at increasing understanding of the lymphatic
system's anatomy and pathology, analyzing current global treatment practices, and
improving patient outcomes.
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema, according to the American Cancer Society, is a build-up of lymph fluid under the skin due to damage or a dysfunction with
the lymphatic system; which can cause swelling and discomfort. While this often happens
in the arms or legs, it can also occur in the face, neck, abdomen or genitals. The
condition is often chronic and can sometimes cause serious issues for the patient.
“The lymphatic system is intrinsically involved with all systems of the body; yet,
it is the least researched and understood by the medical community and patients,”
DiCecco explained. “I have been working in this area with patient care for more than 20 years and only in the past decade has research and treatment options really started to
Part of DiCecco’s research is to quantify the average number of lymph nodes in the
main draining regions of the body.
“This can help healthcare practitioners better select how many lymph nodes to remove
during cancer treatments and to predict outcomes after treatments,” she said.
DiCecco is working with international therapists to evaluate the current knowledge
and needs of healthcare practitioners worldwide in the different aspects of lymphedema
including pediatrics, genital lymphedema and pregnancy concerns with lymphedema.
“These patients deserve options to minimize the impact lymphedema has on the quality
of their daily life,” DiCecco added.
Improving Lymphedema Treatment
DiCecco is using different assessment techniques to evaluate current treatment options
for males and females with genital lymphedema involvement. Her research is attempting
to determine if tools used to treat lymphedema in other areas, like the breasts after
breast cancer, could be used to address genital lymphedema.
Lymphedema is swelling caused by lymph fluid buildup due to a dysfunction with the
DiCecco's research aims to enhance lymphedema understanding, treatment, and patient
Physical therapy can address the impact lymphatic and pelvic dysfunctions have on
a patient’s quality of life.
“I am working with another colleague at PCOM to see how one's body build, especially
adipose or fat tissue around the ribcage, can impact breathing,” DiCecco said.
Individuals with trunk lymphedema, lipedema, and general obesity often have adipose
accumulation on the trunk and this could interfere with rib cage movement and muscle
recruitment with breathing.
Upcoming research projects involve investigating current treatment options for orthopedic-related
edema concerns as well as exploring how chronic diseases, like lymphedema and lipedema,
impact mental and physical intimacy.
Passing the Torch
DiCecco has presented her research at local, national and international conferences.
And while conducting the research is important, training new researchers and practitioners
is also a priority for her.
“My main goal is for these future healthcare practitioners to recognize what lymphedema
looks like and what treatment options are available for these individuals,” DiCecco
said. “I also hope I can encourage a few to enter the field of lymphology, for I will
need to retire one day and I need others to carry the torch!”
Her advice to novice researchers is to start small and think of basic questions to
answer. DiCecco said a common mistake is trying to tackle a huge research question
or project in an initial attempt at research.
“The research process then can become overwhelming and discouraging,” she said.
DiCecco encourages prospective researchers to start with something as simple as a
literature review or case study, and then progress to larger or more involved studies.
She also advises researchers to be open to including others.
“My research at PCOM is open to all students,” she said. “I love having PT, biomedical,
and DO students on my teams. Everyone has different ways of looking at the research
question and brings unique strengths to the projects.”
A self-described “why?” person who loves learning, DiCecco spent the early part of
her career reading everything she could on different topics related to her patients
and the field.
“As I matured as a healthcare practitioner, I realized there were still so many unanswered
questions. So, I decided if I was not satisfied, I needed to do something about it
and start my own research to help answer some of these questions,” she said. “I am
so glad I did, for doing research brings on another entire level of satisfaction with