Independent reviewers looking over studies into the best way to help breast cancer patients regain shoulder mobility and overcome lymphoedema after treatment have said more research is needed on the subject.
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The most common cancer for women is that of the breast and the most common effects of surgery are reduced use of the shoulder, weak muscles, pain, numbness and lymphoedema, which causes fluid retention and tissue swelling.
The reviewed studies, which were conducted between 2000 and 2009, concerned the effectiveness of exercise programmes which are usually prescribed to combat some of the post-operative complications.
All of the research analysed was taken from the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Ovid Medline, the British Nursing Index, Proquest, Science Direct, Pubmed, Scopus and the Cochrane Library.
Conflicting results about such exercises have been reported, especially regarding their timing and overall effectiveness.
Three reviewers critically appraised the studies and categorised them according to the amount of evidence they generated. They found that both early and delayed exercise had no effect on the occurrence of lymphoedema, although starting muscle training quickly after surgery was most effective in avoiding shoulder motion deterioration.
The reviewers concluded, in findings published by the Journal of Advanced Nursing, that further studies are required to find out the best time for breast cancer patients starting post-operative arm exercises.