Lymphedema Risk Reduced by Weightlifting Following Breast Cancer Treatment


In an earlier post on this site (August 21, 2009) research on the benefits of weightlifting to reduce lymphedema risk after treatment for breast cancer in the New England Journal of Medicine was presented. Now another study by this research group in the Journal of the American Medical Association and presented concurrently at the Breast Cancer Symposium in San Antonio reports additional positive results. Previous research prior to these studies showed that up to 47% of breast cancer survivors who had surgery later develop lymphedema. In this current study researchers concluded “Weightlifting may play a key role in the prevention of the painful limb-swelling condition lymphedema following breast cancer treatment……limits the worsening of symptoms among women who already have lymphedema. ”

One hundred fifty four breast cancer survivors without lymphedema treated within the past 5 years were enrolled into the program. Subjects were given a 1 year membership in a fitness center near their homes and attended twice weekly, ninety minute, small group classes for the first 13 weeks. Classes by certified fitness professionals taught safe techniques of weight lifting. Following the 13 week program subjects exercised on their own and were monitored monthly for changes in arm circumference and also reported any changes in symptoms such as pain, tingling, numbness and others, on a weekly basis.

Results showed that a slow progressive weight lifting regime cut the risk of developing lymphedema by 35% over the one year study period. Compared with a control group who did not change their physical activity regime, 11 % of the subjects developed lymphedema whereas 17% of the controls developed lymphedema. Results were even more dramatic for women who had 5 or more lymph nodes removed during surgery and later practiced slow progressive weight lifting. This group experienced almost a 70% reduction in the development of lymphedema with 7% developing lymphedema compared to 22 percent in the controls.

More information is available at:

Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.