Weight Lifting for Women at Risk for Breast Cancer–Related Lymphedema: A Randomized Trial


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Abstract

ContextClinical guidelines for breast cancer survivors without lymphedema advise against upper body exercise, preventing them from obtaining established health benefits of weight lifting.ObjectiveTo evaluate lymphedema onset after a 1-year weight lifting intervention vs no exercise (control) among survivors at risk for breast cancer–related lymphedema (BCRL).Design, Setting, and ParticipantsA randomized controlled equivalence trial (Physical Activity and Lymphedema trial) in the Philadelphia metropolitan area of 154 breast cancer survivors 1 to 5 years postunilateral breast cancer, with at least 2 lymph nodes removed and without clinical signs of BCRL at study entry. Participants were recruited between October 1, 2005, and February 2007, with data collection ending in August 2008.InterventionWeight lifting intervention included a gym membership and 13 weeks of supervised instruction, with the remaining 9 months unsupervised, vs no exercise.Main Outcome MeasuresIncident BCRL determined by increased arm swelling during 12 months (≥5% increase in interlimb difference). Clinician-defined BCRL onset was also evaluated. Equivalence margin was defined as doubling of lyphedema incidence.ResultsA total of 134 participants completed follow-up measures at 1 year. The proportion of women who experienced incident BCRL onset was 11% (8 of 72) in the weight lifting intervention group and 17% (13 of 75) in the control group (cumulative incidence difference [CID], −6.0%; 95% confidence interval [CI], −17.2% to 5.2%; P for equivalence = .04). Among women with 5 or more lymph nodes removed, the proportion who experienced incident BCRL onset was 7% (3 of 45) in the weight lifting intervention group and 22% (11 of 49) in the control group (CID, −15.0%; 95% CI, −18.6% to −11.4%; P for equivalence = .003). Clinician-defined BCRL onset occurred in 1 woman in the weight lifting intervention group and 3 women in the control group (1.5% vs 4.4%, P for equivalence = .12).ConclusionIn breast cancer survivors at risk for lymphedema, a program of slowly progressive weight lifting compared with no exercise did not result in increased incidence of lymphedema.Trial Registrationclinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00194363

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