"However, there are few treatments that are proven effective for ameliorating this problem, and thus, this looks like a valuable option for affected patients," Burstein said.
Dr. Beryl McCormick of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City agreed that the study would change advice given to breast cancer survivors.
"This is new information. Many surgeons recommend limited weight-bearing," McCormick said.
But Dr. Ruth Oratz of the Women's Oncology and Wellness Practice in New York City said she thought the study would have minimal effect on practice.
Oratz pointed out that while the weightlifting women reported fewer exacerbations from the lymphedema, the weightlifting didn't actually quell the swelling itself.
"The mild strength training looks like it may help prevent exacerbations," Oratz said. "But it will not change baseline arm swelling."
As a result, she said she would see "no major change in practice."
Yet individuals in the study have reported less swelling since they began their participation.
Breast cancer survivor Corrie Roberts said that when she heard about a study on weightlifting and lymphedema she signed up, even if the study was experimental and she hated working out.
"One of the classes I hated in school was gym," said Roberts, 75. "But I really think this exercise and this weightlifting have kept this swelling down. I woke up this morning and the swelling was gone."
Roberts said her lymphedema began to develop after an anesthesiologist pricked her left arm before a procedure. Shortly afterwards she noticed a mild swelling that just wouldn't go away.
"It was uncomfortable, there was a tightness there," she said. "It was there all the time. It didn't go down and I knew that something was wrong."
Roberts, who lives in the Philadelphia area, said she now advises her friends to try weightlifting.
"There are two people I know who have arms that look like sausages and I keep telling them that they have to go to a physical therapist and get some exercise," she said.