"Our study challenges the historical medical recommendations for women who get lymphedema after breast cancer, and is another example of well-meaning medical advice turning out to be misguided," said New England Journal of Medicine quoted lead author Dr Kathryn Schmitz, an associate professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and a member of Penn's Abramson Cancer Centre as saying.
"Too many women have missed out on the health and fitness benefits that weight lifting provides, including building bone density.
"Our study shows that breast cancer survivors can safely participate in slowly progressive weight lifting and gain those benefits without any increase in their lymphedema symptoms. In fact, this type of exercise may actually help them feel better," she added.
During the study, the researchers enrolled 141 breast cancer patients and examine the impact of weight training on this sometimes debilitating, incurable condition.
Half were assigned to a weight-lifting group that participated in small- group, twice-weekly, 90-minute exercise classes for 13 weeks, while the 70 were in control group.
During the course of the study, women in the weightlifting group experienced fewer exacerbations of their condition, and a reduction in symptoms compared to the women who did not lift weights.
"Our study shows that participating in a safe, structured weight-lifting routine can help women with lymphedema take control of their symptoms and reap the many rewards that resistance training has on their overall health as they begin life as a cancer survivor," said Schmitz.
"We did the intervention in community fitness centers deliberately, in the hope that positive results seen in our study would continue to be available to breast cancer survivors long beyond the end of the research study," she added.
The researchers recommended that women start with a slowly progressive program, supervised by a certified fitness professional, in order to learn how to do these types of exercises properly.