Contrary to conventional wisdom, lifting weights doesn't cause breast cancer survivors to develop the painful, arm-swelling condition known as lymphedema, new research suggests. There's a hint that weight-lifting might even help prevent lymphedema, but more research is needed to say that for sure, the researchers said. Breast cancer-related lymphedema is caused by an accumulation of lymph fluid after surgical removal of the lymph nodes and/or radiation. It is a serious condition that may cause arm swelling, awkwardness and discomfort.
"Lymphedema is something women really fear after breast cancer, and the guidance has been not to lift anything heavier even than a purse," said Kathryn H. Schmitz, lead author of the study to be presented Wednesday at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. " to tell women to not use that affected arm without giving them a prescription for a personal valet is an absurdist principle," she added. A previous study done by the same team of researchers found that exercise actually stabilized symptoms among women who already had lymphedema.
"We really wanted to put the last stamp on this to say, 'Hey, it is not only safe but may actually be good for their arms," said Schmitz, who is an associate professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and a member of the Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia. "It's almost like a paradigm shift," said Lee Jones, scientific director of the Duke Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Survivorship in Durham, N.C. "Low-volume resistance training does not exacerbate lymphedema."