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Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2011 Nov;130(1):227-34. doi: 10.1007/s10549-011-1547-6. Epub 2011 May 12.

Does the effect of weight lifting on lymphedema following breast cancer differ by diagnostic method: results from a randomized controlled trial.

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Queensland University of Technology, School of Public Health, Institute of Biomedical Innovation, Brisbane, Australia.


The lymphedema diagnostic method used in descriptive or intervention studies may influence results found. The purposes of this work were to compare baseline lymphedema prevalence in the physical activity and lymphedema (PAL) trial cohort and to subsequently compare the effect of the weight-lifting intervention on lymphedema, according to four standard diagnostic methods. The PAL trial was a randomized controlled intervention study, involving 295 women who had previously been treated for breast cancer, and evaluated the effect of 12 months of weight lifting on lymphedema status. Four diagnostic methods were used to evaluate lymphedema outcomes: (i) interlimb volume difference through water displacement, (ii) interlimb size difference through sum of arm circumferences, (iii) interlimb impedance ratio using bioimpedance spectroscopy, and (iv) a validated self-report survey. Of the 295 women who participated in the PAL trial, between 22 and 52% were considered to have lymphedema at baseline according to the four diagnostic criteria used. No between-group differences were noted in the proportion of women who had a change in interlimb volume, interlimb size, interlimb ratio, or survey score of ≥5, ≥5, ≥10%, and 1 unit, respectively (cumulative incidence ratio at study end for each measure ranged between 0.6 and 0.8, with confidence intervals spanning 1.0). The variation in proportions of women within the PAL trial considered to have lymphoedema at baseline highlights the potential impact of the diagnostic criteria on population surveillance regarding prevalence of this common morbidity of treatment. Importantly though, progressive weight lifting was shown to be safe for women following breast cancer, even for those at risk or with lymphedema, irrespective of the diagnostic criteria used.

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