Lifting Weight After Breast Cancer

Last Modified: March 19, 2010

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

There was a recent news story that it is ok for women to exercise and lift weights after breast cancer (which I had been told not to just 2 years ago). What guidelines can we follow?

Answer

Andrea Richtel-Baranas, MSE, MPT, Lead Therapist at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

Until recently, doctors were often recommending that women who had undergone treatment for breast cancer limit all weight lifting to less than 5 -15lbs. The reason for this recommendation was to limit the womenÕs risk of developing lymphedema. In 2009, Katie Schmitz, PhD, MPH published groundbreaking research looking at Weight Lifting in Women with Breast-Cancer Related Lymphedema. In this study, Dr. Schmitz and colleagues found that in women with breast-cancer related lymphedema, slowly progressive weight-lifting did not cause an increase in arm swelling. The article did not specifically address weight lifting in women with breast cancer who did not already have lymphedema. However, as a result of this study, many physicians are starting to consider slowly progressive weight training as a possibility for women with breast cancer. Dr. Schmitz has worked with the National Lymphedema Network to help people to understand the results of her study. Please see the link to the NLN website for more information.

You should talk to your doctor again about whether you can do more exercise with your arm. Based on your diagnosis, type of surgery and other treatments, exercise may be indicated for you now.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series, Exercise, Nutrition and Cancer Webchat. View the entire transcript here.