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Weight Lifting Can Ease Arm Swelling in Breast Cancer Survivors
Date:8/12/2009

Finding runs counter to standard advice doctors have given for years

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Lifting weights can help prevent flare-ups of lymphedema, a painful swelling of the arm that often occurs after breast cancer surgery, new research shows.

The finding runs counter to what women have been told for years -- that they should avoid stressing the arm during strength training or other exercise because muscle strain can cause lymphedema to worsen.

The study is published in the Aug. 13 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers divided 141 breast cancer survivors who had lymphedema into two groups. One group did twice-weekly weight training using slowly increasing weights for 13 weeks. Afterward, they were told to continue the exercises unsupervised for 39 weeks. The other group was told to maintain their normal exercise and activity regimen.

About 11 percent of the weight-lifting group and 12 percent of the control group had an increase of 5 percent or more in limb swelling, according to the study, not a significant difference.

Yet the weight-lifting group had greater improvements in self-reported severity of lymphedema symptoms, an improvement in upper- and lower-body strength and a lower incidence of lymphedema exacerbations.

About 14 percent of the weight-lifting group experienced a flare-up compared to 29 percent of those in the control group, according to a certified lymphedema specialist who examined the participants.

"We found that twice-weekly, slowly progressive strength training does not increase the likelihood of swelling and decreases the likelihood of flare-ups," said study author Kathryn Schmitz, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

In the past, advice to women about dealing with lymphedema has been confusing, Schmitz noted. Standard advice h
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