The surgery and radiation used to treat breast cancer can damage the lymphatic vessels in the area of treatment, leading to an increased risk for lymphedema, a swelling caused by fluid that leaks out of the lymphatic system into the tissues. The result is swelling, pain, and loss of function in the affected area. Frequently, in breast cancer, the arms are affected.
To avoid increasing the risk of lymphedema, patients have traditionally be told to avoid resistance exercises for the affected arm. Recent results have suggested that this may not be correct and now a review of many studies in the field confirms that exercise of this type does NOT cause lymphedema in women at risk. Only certain types of exercise were included in the studies and it is important that women considering increasing their exercise levels discuss their activities with their clinician.