Lifting Weights Reduces Lymphedema Symptoms Following Breast Cancer Surgery, Penn Research Shows


August 28, 2009

Penn Medicine News

PHILADELPHIA – Breast cancer survivors who lift weights are less likely than their non-weightlifting peers to experience worsening symptoms of lymphedema, the arm- and hand-swelling condition that plagues many women following surgery for their disease, according to new University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine research published in the August 13 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The findings challenge the advice commonly given to lymphedema sufferers, who may worry that weight training or even carrying children or bags of groceries will exacerbate their symptoms.

“Our study challenges the historical medical recommendations for women who get lymphedema after breast cancer, and is another example of well-meaning medical advice turning out to be misguided,” says lead author Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, MPH, an associate professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and a member of Penn's Abramson Cancer Center. “For instance, we used to tell those who had back pain to rest, but we know now that in many cases, inactivity can actually make a bad back worse. Too many women have missed out on the health and fitness benefits that weight lifting provides, including building bone density. Our study shows that breast cancer survivors can safely participate in slowly progressive weight lifting and gain those benefits without any increase in their lymphedema symptoms. In fact, this type of exercise may actually help them feel better.” Read More

Resource Guide for Cancer Survivors Interested in Exercise [PDF]
About Penn's Breast Cancer Program and Cancer Rehabilitation Program

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