This study sought to examine whether weight-training exercise intervention is harmful to women with or at risk of breast cancer-related lymphoedema. The primary outcomes were severity (volume difference) and incidence of arm lymphoedema. Secondary outcomes included muscle strength of the upper and lower limbs, quality of life and body mass index. Eleven studies from eight trials involving 1091 women were included. Weight-training exercise of low to moderate intensity with relatively slow progression significantly improved the upper limb strength (SMD 0.93, 95% CI 0.73 to 1.12) and lower limb strength (SMD 0.75, 95% CI 0.47 to 1.04) without increasing the arm volume (SMD -0.09, 95% CI -0.23 to 0.05) or incidence of breast cancer-related lymphoedema (RR 0.77, 95% CI 0.52 to 1.15). No significant effects were observed for body mass index (SMD -0.10, 95% -0.31 to 0.11). Some aspects of quality of life may improve with weight training. Participants in all trials used pressure garments and received supervision; no trials used high-intensity weight training.
Weight training seems to be safe and beneficial in improving limb strength and physical components of quality of life in women with or at risk of lymphoedema. Pressure garments, supervision and limiting the intensity of the weight training may each be significant, but this couldn’t be determined with this review.