Breast cancer patients can develop a painful swelling in the arms after treatment, called lymphedema. A new study looks at a non-medical way to try to prevent the problem.
Many women conquer breast cancer, only to develop the painful and even debilitating condition called lymphedema. Surgery or radiation treatment for the cancer can create a blockage in the lymph system, causing swelling in one or both arms, or the patient's side.
Breast cancer survivor Maria McCrone wants to avoid lymphedema but she's chosen exercise, going against traditional thinking. In the past, breast cancer survivors were advised to restrict movement in their arms and on the side where they were treated, anything to avoid lymphedema.
"Women live in fear of developing this condition because currently we have no way of curing lymphedema and so it can progress and become a lifelong and debilitating condition," said Dr. Kathryn Schmitz, University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Schmitz at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine wanted to know if progressive weight training could help stave off lymphedema. She and her colleagues conducted a randomized study involving 154 breast cancer survivors who had at least two lymph nodes removed. For the study, half of them lifted weights twice a week for one year, the others did not.
"Women who did the weight training were less likely to have increases in arm swelling than women who did not do the weight training."
"Being healthy all promotes survival so if you can live longer and prevent lymphedema at the same time then that's really a double win," said McCrone.
If you are a breast cancer survivor who wants to try exercise to avoid lymphedema, be sure to discuss it with your doctor first.
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