Treatment for breast cancer can lead to an unpleasant condition called lymphedema which causes the arms to swell. Research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine indicated that weightlifting may prevent the development of lymphedema. Previous research by the same team found that when women with lymphedema lift weights, they can prevent the condition from becoming worse.
The results were presented on December 8, 2010 at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. It was published at that time in the Journal of the American Medical Association as well.
According to a Eurekalert also released on December 8, 2010, lymphedema is most likely to occur after surgery removing multiple lymph nodes in the area of the breast that had cancer. Up to 47 percent of women who have had this type of surgery can experience lymphedema.
Women in the study took part in a membership at a fitness center for 13 weeks where they used free weights and machines under the watchful eyes of certified fitness professionals. They worked out twice a week for 90 minutes at a time. For the rest of a year, the women exercised on their own, monitored monthly.
The women with lymphedema who participated in this routine had fewer setbacks and fewer symptoms than women who did not take part in weightlifting.
It is important for a woman who has or may develop lymphedema to be in touch with her doctor, and a certified fitness professional for safety's sake.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine's website Nejm.org, more than 2.4 million American women are survivors of breast cancer. Depending on the type of treatment received, a woman may run a 6 percent to 70 percent chance of developing lymphedema.
Many of these survivors have been trying to restrict the use of their affected arms under the impression that this will help. However advice along these lines is counterproductive. Instead, lymphedema responds best to a carefully controlled increase in activity, including weightlifting.
Nejm.org concurred with the results referred to in the eurekalert, that weightlifting had an effect on hand and arm symptoms, decreasing both severity and frequency. Apparently exercise enhanced the flow of lymph and enhanced protein reabsorption. The effects of regular exercise on the lungs seemed to boost lymph flow as well. It is speculated that the increase in muscle strength may have reduced the effects of stress on the arm in daily activities.
This research was funded by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the National Center for Research Resources.
Weightlifting slashes lymphedema risk after breast cancer treatment. Eurekalert.org. Web. September 5, 2011.
Weight Lifting in Women with Breast-Cancer-Related Lymphedema. Nejm.org. Web. September 5, 2011.
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Reviewed September 6, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.