Weight Lifting Reduces Arm Swelling in Breast Cancer Survivors
Posted Dec 13 2010 10:48am
Many breast cancer patients are at risk for developing lymphedema , a swelling due to a blockage in lymph drainage, in their arm after breast cancer surgery, particularly breast cancer patients that have had lymph nodes removed. This can lead to impaired arm function and decreased quality of life for breast cancer survivors. There has been concern from breast cancer patients and healthcare professionals that exercise, especially weight lifting, might increase a breast cancer patient's risk for developing lymphedema. A new breast cancer study published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association has helped clarify the impact of weight lifting on the incidence of lymphedema in breast cancer patients .
In this new breast cancer research study, breast cancer survivors (134 completed the study) were assigned to a Control Group that did not change their normal level of exercise during the 1-year study period or to a Weight Lifting Group that received supervised weight lifting instruction at a gym twice weekly for 13 weeks and then continued unsupervised weight lifting for the remaining 9 months. All of the breast cancer survivors enrolled had had at least 2 lymph nodes removed and did not have any signs of lymphedema. Breast cancer survivors were followed for one year and incidence of lymphedema was measured. Lymphedema was defined in two ways, as a 5% or more increase in arm swelling and by standard clinician-defined lymphedema. The breast cancer researchers reported
Clinician-defined lymphedema was not different between the two groups with only 1 incident observed in the weight lifting group and 3 cases seen in the control group.
Based on arm swelling measurements, lymphema was lower in the weight lifting group (11%) than in the non-exercise control group (17%).
When only breast cancer survivors who had had 5 or more lymph nodes removed were included in the analysis, lymphedema was only seen in 7% of the weight lifting women compared to 22% of the non-exercising breast cancer survivors.
Despite current concerns that upper body exercises like weight lifting might increase the risk of lymphedema in breast cancer survivors, this new study suggests that the opposite might actually be true. This breast cancer research study suggests that a slow, progressive weight lifting program might actually reduce a breast cancer survivor's risk of developing lymphedema. Furthermore, these breast cancer researchers reported that (as one might expect) the women in the weight lifting group became stronger and showed a reduction in body fat percentage. Regular exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and has been reported to possibly reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Previously, many breast cancer survivors have not been able to obtain the benefits of regular exercise due to concerns with arm swelling. These latest results indicate that even breast cancer patients at risk for lymphedema should be able to enjoy the benefits of regular exercise as part of the survivorship strategies.