Weight Lifting May Be OK After Breast Cancer
Study: Weight Lifting May Not Worsen Lymphedema in Breast Cancer Survivors
WebMD News Archive
Aug. 12, 2009 -- Weight lifting may be gaining strength as an option for
breast cancer survivors with swelling in their arms.
A new study challenges the belief that breast cancer patients with
lymphedema in their arms should avoid weight lifting.
Lymphedema is fluid buildup that causes swelling. In breast cancer patients,
it can be a lasting side effect of removing lymph nodes during breast cancer
To avoid making lymphedema worse, heavy lifting of any kind is typically
discouraged for breast cancer survivors with lymphedema.
But the new study, published in the Aug. 13 edition of The New England
Journal of Medicine, shows that weight lifting may actually help breast
cancer survivors with lymphedema.
The study included 141 U.S. women who had completed breast cancer
Half of the women got a free membership to a local health club and got
trained in weight lifting by trainers who were knowledgeable about
For comparison, the other women weren't asked to start weight training, and
they got a one-year pass to a health club only when the study ended.
The women in the weight lifting group worked out twice a week at their
health clubs. They did weight lifting exercises that target the upper and lower
body, as well as stretching, a cardio warm-up, and exercises for their
abdominal and back muscles.
The women wore custom-fitted compression garments on their affected arm.
Their trainers made sure the weight lifting exercises were challenging but
not too hard.
Arm measurements taken throughout the study showed that women in the weight
lifting group weren't more likely than women in the comparison group to have
their affected arm swell by 5% or more.
In fact, the women in the weight lifting group reported greater improvement
in their lymphedema symptoms -- and of course, they got stronger, too.
"These findings support the potential benefits of a slowly progressive
weight-lifting program in women with breast cancer-related lymphedema, in
conjunction with appropriate use of compression garments and close monitoring
for arm and hand swelling," write the researchers, who included Kathryn
Schmitz, PhD, MPH, of the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer
The study "provides strong reassurance regarding the safety of appropriately
supervised weight training in women with a history of breast cancer and
lymphedema," states an editorial also published in the New England Journal
The editorial calls for more research, including a cost-savings analysis and
ways to get the word out about safe weight lifting programs for breast cancer
patients with lymphedema.