The Effects of Resistance Exercises on Secondary Lymphedema Due to Treatment of Breast Cancer: A Review of Current Literature

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Background: Breast cancer–related lymphedema has become a prevalent topic in physical therapy due to changing theories on treatment techniques. Low-level resistance exercise or active range of motion is a treatment used in complete decongestive therapy (CDT), which is currently the standard treatment. Progressive resistance exercise techniques are currently being researched to examine their effects on secondary lymphedema.

Study Design: Systematic review.

Purpose: The purpose of this systematic review was to examine the effect of resistance exercise on secondary lymphedema due to breast cancer treatment in women compared with active range of motion and low-level resistance exercises.

Methods and Measures: Two searches of the literature were performed, the first between March 2015 and October 2015 and the second between January 2016 and February 2016, using PubMed, EBSCO (CINAHL, MEDLINE, and Academic Search Premiere) databases.

Results: Thirteen articles were included and were divided into high-, medium-, or low-frequency exercise groups. The change in lymphedema was then examined. No studies showed a long-term increase in lymphedema, and in some instances, the lymphedema was reduced with resistance exercise.

Conclusion: After reviewing current literature, it can be concluded that resistance exercise paired with CDT may be beneficial for patients post–breast cancer treatment. In high-frequency groups, a statistically significant difference was seen in lymphedema reduction compared with control groups. Even if lymphedema was not reduced, many patients still experienced other benefits of resistance exercises such as increased strength and increased quality-of-life scores.




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