For a long time, breast cancer survivors were told by physicians and others on the cancer care team to avoid overuse of their arms after breast cancer surgery. Told to avoid lifting items over 5 pounds (or sometimes as little as 2 pounds), women were functionally limited from activities of daily living – no lifting a gallon of milk or carrying in groceries, no picking up children or grandchildren for a nurturing hug, no participating in activities they once enjoyed like tennis or golf.
This week, those recommendations went out the window. Building on previous work that showed supervised progressive weight training did not effect limb swelling or exacerbate lymphedema in breast cancer survivors, this week, Katie Schmitz and colleages reported that the same weight training program did not CAUSE lymphedema in breast cancer survivors at risk of lymphedema (that is, with at least 2 lymph nodes removed during surgery who showed no signs of lymphedema at the start of the study).
The authors have cautioned: women who have lymphedema or are at risk of the condition should speak with their doctors and seek guidance from a certified fitness professional to learn safe weightlifting techniques, many of which can even be practiced at home with proper equipment. Women with lymphedema should also wear a well-fitting compression garment during all exercise sessions.
This is great news and suggests getting up and getting moving has even more benefits than previously thought for breast cancer survivors!