Lifting Weights After Breast Cancer
Last year, an influential study examined whether breast cancer survivors with lymphedema could safely lift weights. Lymphedema, a painful and even disabling swelling of the arm, is a dreaded complication of breast-cancer surgery, especially if a woman had lymph nodes removed. Experts long thought that hefting weight of almost any kind would contribute to lymphedema in breast-cancer survivors and advised them to avoid picking up or carrying heavy purses, grocery bags, suitcases or their own children and to steer away, by all means, from formal weight training.
However, in a large-scale follow-up study being published this week in JAMA says that weight training did not induce lymphedema. More fundamentally, the findings suggest that most breast cancer survivors would benefit from trips to the gym.
For the study, 134 breast-cancer survivors were assigned to either a one-year progressive weight-training program or to a nonexercising control group. The women in the exercising group received gym memberships and attended supervised sessions twice a week for 13 weeks, then continued on their own. They began by using extremely light weights, typically one pound, progressing to heavier weights in one-pound increments if they experienced no swelling. Most did not. While 17 percent of the women in the control group developed lymphedema over the course of the year, only 11 percent of the women in the weight-training group did. The results were particularly striking for women who had had five or more lymph nodes removed. Twenty-two percent of these women in the nonexercising group developed lymphedema, compared to 7 percent who weight trained. (NY Times)