Weight Lifting May Help Breast Cancer Survivors

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First, there was the news that weightlifting may help breast cancer survivors who already have the common – and painful – condition called lymphedema. Now the same team of researchers has found that weightlifting may play a key role in preventing the condition.

The research is a big deal because traditionally, breast cancer survivors at risk of lymphedema were advised to avoid weight-bearing exercises or even carrying children or heavy bags in the fear they would get the condition. But avoiding weightlifting means women can not reap the many benefits of weight-lifting exercises and it may keep them from exercise in general, which research suggests can prevent recurrence and improve survival.

The study was published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Here is the abstract.

The lead researcher of the study was Kathryn H. Schmitz, PhD, MPH of the University of Pennsylvania, who was one of the presenters at AICR’s Annual Research Conference in 2009. At the conference Dr. Schmitz spoke about strategies to promote physical activity among cancer survivors.

In this brief video clip from the AICR conference, Dr. Schmitz offers direction and resources for survivors at risk of lymphedema or women who already have it.

For the JAMA study, Dr. Schmitz and her colleagues randomly split 154 breast cancer survivors without lymphedema into two groups: one group lifted weights and the other did not. The weight lifters were supervised for the first 13 weeks of the study. At the end of one year, fewer women in the weightlifting regimen developed the condition compared to the non-weight lifters (11% and 17%, respectively).

Among women who had five or more lymph nodes removed during surgery, the impact of the weightlifting intervention was even more.

Lymphedema occurs when the normal flow of lymph fluid becomes blocked and causes limbs to swell. During treatment for breast cancer, the lymph nodes (which carry the fluid) are harmed or removed. You can find out more about lymphedema at the the National Lymphedema Network.


Author: Mya Nelson

Mya R. Nelson is at American Institute for Cancer Research, where she writes about the research in the field.

One thought on “Weight Lifting May Help Breast Cancer Survivors”

  1. I had a mastectomy 5 years ago with removal of lymph nodes and have no lymphedema and I am a bellringer. Could this exersize have helped prevent it?

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