Health

Exercise advised for lymphoedema after breast cancer

Exercise Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Exercise contributes to general health and well-being

Women who suffer swelling following breast cancer treatment should be encouraged to exercise, say experts.

New National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance says exercise will not make the problem worse and could improve well-being.

One in five people treated for breast cancer will go on to develop lymphoedema in their arm, hand, fingers or chest.

It is a long-term condition that can lead to pain and loss of mobility.

The new NICE guidance, which is subject to consultation, says doctors and nurses should discuss with patients how exercise may improve their quality of life.

They should also stress that the current evidence shows "exercise does not prevent, cause or worsen lymphoedema".

Clearing 'confusion'

Many people with breast cancer go on to develop lymphoedema in their arm or chest following surgical or radiotherapy treatment.

It occurs when the body's lymphatic system becomes damaged and is unable to drain fluid in the normal way.

Prof Mark Baker, director of the NICE centre for clinical practice, said: "For breast cancer patients, lymphoedema may occur as a result of treatment - such as surgery or radiotherapy - or cancer cells blocking the lymph system.

"Some people may be cautious of taking up exercise as they may think it could make their lymphoedema worse or bring it about in the first place.

Image copyright SPL
Image caption Breast cancer cells can block the lymph system

"Our proposed new recommendations should clear up any confusion relating to the role that exercise can play for people with or at risk of this condition."

Jackie Harris, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said lymphoedema can severely restrict movement and impact lives.

"Lymphoedema can be controlled but will never go away and we know that regular exercise has many benefits for those living with or at risk of lymphoedema," she said.

"Regular movement in everyday life or work can help keep joints supple and aids lymph drainage and extra exercises can also be useful if swelling restricts movement of the arm."

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