Lymphedema, which is a common problem for breast cancer patients, is an abnormal buildup of fluid that causes swelling, most often in the arms or legs, and develops when lymph vessels or lymph nodes are missing, impaired, damaged, or removed. Secondary lymphedema can develop from infection, malignancy, surgery, scar tissue formation, trauma, deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in a vein), radiation, or other cancer treatment. A new study has now confirmed that upper-body exercise increases a patient's quality of life, contrary to earlier myths that repetitive upper-body exercise in breast cancer survivors encourages lymphedema.
For the study, researchers randomly assigned seven breast cancer survivors with lymphedema to an exercise group and seven survivors to a control group. The exercise group followed a progressive, eight-week upper-body exercise program that consisted of resistance training and aerobic activity. The study results indicated that there was no changes in arm circumference or arm volume as a result of the exercise program. They also found that the exercise regimen resulted in slight increase in physical functioning, general health, mental health and vitality.