There is accumulating evidence supporting the importance of resistance training in breast cancer survivors for building strength and enhancing functional results (1). Despite these benefits, many breast cancer survivors prefer not to participate in upper-body exercises, such as strength training, out of fear of developing lymphedema and a belief that there are extra health risks connected with this kind of exercise (2). In addition, breast cancer treatments such as surgery, radiation, and lymph node removal may cause arm swelling, weakness, and pain, making resistance training more challenging. Multiple techniques are used in breast cancer therapy (3). Therefore, while designing resistance training programmers for breast cancer survivors, experts in the domains of health and exercise must address these issues and make data-driven decisions.
Can I Safely Engage in Upper-Body Resistance Training?
Lymphedema is a condition that may occur after cancer treatment, and it is a major cause of concern for a substantial proportion of breast cancer survivors. It is characterized by arm swelling, pain, and discomfort, and it may limit a person’s range of motion, impair arm function, and increase the risk of infection (4). In earlier healthcare recommendations for the treatment of lymphedema, it was suggested that intense and repeated arm activity be avoided due to the belief that it might increase lymph production and so induce or aggravate lymphedema symptoms. Recent study has shown that this is not the case (5). However, research conducted over the last two decades has proven the exact opposite to be true: upper-body resistance training neither increases the risk of developing lymphedema nor exacerbates current symptoms (6). There is evidence that resistance training may have beneficial effects, including a decrease in arm swelling and an improvement in lymphedema symptoms overall (7,8). Recent research indicates that upper-body resistance exercise is safe for breast cancer survivors and may play an important role in the treatment and management of lymphedema.
Not only is resistance training absolutely safe, but it also has the potential to be a highly beneficial strategy for assisting recovery after cancer treatment. Typical side effects of breast cancer treatment include accelerated loss of muscular mass, strength, and physical function, as well as increased fatigue (9–11). These undesirable effects may last for years after treatment has completed and have a significant influence on an individual’s overall quality of life. Survivors of breast cancer who engage in resistance training are able to reduce the negative consequences of these modifications, as well as improve their muscle mass, strength, physical function, and quality of life, while also seeing a decrease in cancer-related fatigue (12–14). In addition, upper-body strength training reduces shoulder and arm impairments after surgery by enhancing upper-body function and minimizing arm pain and disability. These advantages may help counteract the disadvantages of surgery (15).
Specific Concerns Regarding the Program’s Development
Although upper-body resistance training is safe and may provide breast cancer survivors various benefits, it is vital to consider breast cancer-specific symptoms and treatment-related concerns when establishing an exercise programmed. Here are some of the most essential considerations:
Manifestations in the arm
Survivors of breast cancer are more likely to have arm pain, weakness, a decreased range of motion, and lymphedema. Start with a moderate resistance and gradually increase repetitions, sets, duration, and frequency. Progress should be made gradually while monitoring symptoms so that modifications, such as reducing the intensity if symptoms emerge, may be made properly. Encourage breast cancer survivors diagnosed with lymphedema to engage in physical activity while wearing compression sleeves.
Symptoms of fatigue stemming from cancer
Fatigue is a common side effect of cancer treatment, and it may make it difficult to engage in activities such as exercising, being physically active, and doing daily chores. During each training session, keep a careful watch on your levels of fatigue and change the intensity, number of repetitions, number of sets, and level of difficulty as appropriate.
Manifestations of peripheral neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy is a chemotherapy side effect that may include tingling or numbness in the hands and feet, muscular weakness, and loss of balance (16). Encourage breast cancer survivors with peripheral neuropathy to do upper-body resistance exercises while seated or, if they require assistance, while standing next to a chair or a wall. If peripheral neuropathy makes it difficult to grasp hand weights, wrist weights may be used as an alternative.
It is conceivable that an extended warm-up is necessary
It may be necessary to do a more lengthy warm-up that incorporates dynamic movement in order to gradually increase range of motion, especially in the upper body.
Provide youngsters with an education
If your client is apprehensive to engage in upper-body strength training, you should tell them of the benefits and safety of this kind of exercise for breast cancer survivors. Importantly, the programmed will begin at a low intensity and progressively progress to greater intensities, while arm sensations and fatigue levels are monitored. Discuss the methods that will be used to maintain safety and prevent health risks.
Working with cancer patients or survivors requires particular knowledge and abilities, in addition to the aforementioned considerations.