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Weight Lifting Does Not Appear to Increase Risk of Arm Swelling, Discomfort for Breast Cancer Survivors


Breast Cancer image

A slowly progressive weight-lifting program for breast cancer survivors did not increase their risk of lymphedema (arm swelling and discomfort), according to a study appearing in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Breast cancer survivors at risk for lymphedema alter activity, limit activity, or both, from fear and uncertainty about their personal risk level, and upon guidance advising them to avoid lifting children, heavy bags, or other objects with the at-risk arm. Such guidance is often interpreted in a manner that deconditions the arm, increasing the potential for injury, overuse, and ironically, lymphedema onset,” according to background information in the article. The authors add that adherence to these precautions may limit physical recovery after breast cancer.

"Our results suggest that the many health benefits of weight lifting should now become available to all breast cancer survivors.”

Researchers examined the incidence of lymphedema after a one-year weight lifting intervention among survivors at risk for breast cancer-related lymphedema. They found that the proportion of women who experienced new lymphedema onset was 11 percent in the weight-lifting intervention group and 17 percent in the control group, who did not exercise.

The researchers note that the primary goal of this study was to test safety of weight lifting, not superiority, and that additional research is needed before concluding that weight lifting prevents lymphedema. “However, even with the finding of no harm, our results combined with previously published results for women with breast cancer-related lymphedema suggest that the many health benefits of weight lifting should now become available to all breast cancer survivors.”

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Source: The Journal of the American Medical Association

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2011.