Reduction of breast lymphoedema secondary to breast cancer: a randomised controlled exercise trial

S. L. Kilbreath, L. C. Ward, G. M. Davis, A. C. Degnim, D. A. Hackett, T. L. Skinner, D. Black

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Breast lymphoedema can occur following surgical treatment for breast cancer. We investigated whether an exercise program reduced breast lymphoedema symptoms compared to a non-exercise control group. Methods: A single-blinded randomised controlled trial was conducted in which women with stable breast lymphoedema (n = 89) were randomised into an exercise (n = 41) or control (n = 47) group. The intervention comprised a 12-week combined aerobic and resistance training program, supervised weekly by an accredited exercise physiologist. All participants completed a weekly symptoms diary and were assessed monthly to ensure that there was no exacerbation of their lymphoedema. Changes in the breast were captured physically with ultrasound and bioimpedance spectroscopy and changes in symptoms were captured using European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) Breast Cancer (BR23) and Lymphoedema Symptom Intensity and Distress questionnaires. Results: The exercise group reported a greater reduction in breast-related symptoms than the control group, assessed by the EORTC BR23 breast symptom questions. Measures of extracellular fluid, assessed with bioimpedance spectroscopy ratio, decreased in the exercise group compared to the control group. No significant difference was detected in dermal thickness in the breast, assessed by ultrasound. Session attendance in the exercise sessions was high, with two musculoskeletal adverse events reported, but no exacerbations of lymphoedema observed. Conclusion: Combined resistance and aerobic exercise training is safe for women living with breast lymphoedema. Preliminary data suggest exercise training can reduce breast lymphoedema symptoms to a greater extent than usual care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-467
Number of pages9
JournalBreast Cancer Research and Treatment
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • Aerobic training
  • Bioimpedance
  • Breast edema
  • Resistance training
  • Spectroscopy
  • Strength training
  • Ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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