07:16pm Friday 10 July 2020

Exercise is the best medicine for breast cancer survivors, UC study finds

The research, co-authored by University of Canberra  assistant professor in sports studies Kate Pumpa, shows that contrary to clinical guidelines, women with lymphoedema should be exercising and that it won’t increase the swelling in their arms.

  • Photo/filming opportunity: Dr Pumpa and one of her participants will demonstrate some of the exercises TODAY at 10am (room 30, level C, Building 12, University of Canberra). Dr Pumpa is available for interview.  Her study participant will also be available for interview on the day.

Lymphoedema is a painful swelling of the limbs that happens when the body’s lymphatic system doesn’t function properly. This condition is common among people who have had surgery or radiation therapy that affects the lymph nodes, such as those who have had breast cancer.
“Contrary to what is widely believed, this study confirms that it is safe and beneficial for women with lymphoedema secondary to breast cancer to exercise their upper body through lifting weights,” Dr Pumpa said.
“Findings have shown that women with lymphoedema who don’t exercise are losing muscle mass and experiencing a decrease in bone mineral density, which may lead to osteoporosis. 

“This decrease in activity makes the common duties of hanging up the washing or washing their hair really hard,” she added.
The research, which was recently published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship, is a collaboration between the University of Canberra and Edith Cowan University.
The study involved a total of 72 participants over two sites: one in Canberra and one in Perth. The women were split into three groups, with two groups taking part in different exercise programs, and one control group. 

The participants in the control group didn’t exercise and continued with their usual care during the three-month study. Women in the control group were offered the most effective exercise program at the completion of the study.
“It was fantastic to see an improvement in the quality of life of these women after taking part in the study,” Dr Pumpa said. “It also provided a great opportunity for them to socialise and strengthen their support network.”
Dr Pumpa’s key findings:

  • Heavy and light resistance training did not exacerbate lymphoedema symptoms such as pain and swelling
  • Resistance training improved muscle strength, joint range of motion, functional capacity and quality of life
  • Quality of life significantly improved in both exercise groups compared to the control
  • There was a significant decrease in the pain and severity of symptoms experienced in the affected arm
  • There were improvements in functional capacity, such as improved grip strength.

Please contact the UC media team: 

Claudia Doman: 02 6206 8677 / 0408 826 362

Kristyn Comino: 02 6206 8845 / 0418 806 293

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