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Effects of physical exercise on breast cancer-related secondary lymphedema: a systematic review



The aim of this systematic review is to assess the effect of different types of exercise on breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL) in order to elucidate the role of exercise in this patient group.


A systematic data search was performed using PubMed (December 2016). The review is focused on the rehabilitative aspect of BCRL and undertaken according to the PRISMA statement with Levels of Evidence (LoE) assessed.


11 randomized controlled trials (9 with LoE 1a and 2 with LoE 1b) that included 458 women with breast cancer in aftercare were included. The different types of exercise consisted of aqua lymph training, swimming, resistance exercise, yoga, aerobic, and gravity-resistive exercise. Four of the studies measured a significant reduction in BCRL status based on arm volume and seven studies reported significant subjective improvements. No study showed adverse effects of exercise on BCRL.


The evidence indicates that exercise can improve subjective and objective parameters in BCRL patients, with dynamic, moderate, and high-frequency exercise appearing to provide the most positive effects.

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The authors Freerk T. Baumann, Alexandra Reike, Vanessa Reimer, Moritz Schumann, Michael Hallek, Dennis R. Taaffe, Robert U. Newton, and Daniel A. Galvao certify that they have no affiliations with or involvement in any organization or entity with any financial interest (such as honoraria; educational grants; participation in speakers’ bureaus; membership, employment, consultancies, stock ownership, or other equity interest; and expert testimony or patent-licensing arrangements), or non-financial interest (such as personal or professional relationships, affiliations, knowledge or beliefs) in the subject matter or materials discussed in this manuscript.


No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to F. T. Baumann.

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Baumann, F.T., Reike, A., Reimer, V. et al. Effects of physical exercise on breast cancer-related secondary lymphedema: a systematic review. Breast Cancer Res Treat 170, 1–13 (2018).

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  • Breast cancer
  • Oncology
  • Exercise
  • Physical activity
  • Lymphedema