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Acta Oncol. 2009;48(8):1102-10. doi: 10.3109/02841860903061683.

Physical activity for the affected limb and arm lymphedema after breast cancer surgery. A prospective, randomized controlled trial with two years follow-up.

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  • 1Department of Breast and Endocrine Surgery, Oslo University Hospital, Ullevaal, Norway.


BACKGROUND. The influence of physical activity on the development of arm lymphedema (ALE) after breast cancer surgery with axillary node dissection has been debated. We evaluated the development of ALE in two different rehabilitation programs: a no activity restrictions (NAR) in daily living combined with a moderate resistance exercise program and an activity restrictions (AR) program combined with a usual care program. The risk factors associated with the development of ALE 2 years after surgery were also evaluated. MATERIAL AND METHODS. Women (n = 204) with a mean age of 55+/-10 years who had axillary node dissection were randomized into two different rehabilitation programs that lasted for 6 months: NAR (n = 104) or AR (n = 100). The primary outcomes were the difference in arm volume between the affected and control arms (Voldiff, in ml) and the development of ALE. Baseline (before surgery) and follow-up tests were performed 3 months, 6 months, and 2 years after surgery. Data were analyzed using ANCOVA and regression analysis. RESULTS. Voldiff did not differ significantly between the two treatment groups. Arm volume increased significantly over time in both the affected and the control arms. The development of ALE from baseline to 2 years increased significantly in both groups (p < 0.001). The only risk factor for ALE was BMI > 25 kg/m(2). CONCLUSION. Patients that undergo breast cancer surgery with axillary lymph node dissection should be encouraged to maintain physical activity in their daily lives without restrictions and without fear of developing ALE.

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