Effects of Treatment, Inactivity on Arm Tissue Composition in Survivors of Breast Cancer

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Vicki Moore, PhD

From: oncologynurseadvisor.com

A new study suggests that tissue mass and bone mineral density (BMD) may be reduced in the arms of survivors of breast cancer on the side of the body closer to the cancer. Results of the study were reported in Oncology Nursing Forum.

Breast cancer treatments and reduced arm activity have the potential to impact tissue composition and BMD in an arm affected by breast cancer, the study authors explained in their report. However, they also noted that previous research has shown complex results, with lymphedema potentially impacting tissue composition.

In this study, postmenopausal survivors of breast cancer without lymphedema who had finished primary treatment underwent total body dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry to obtain measurements of lean mass, fat mass, and BMD for both arms. Results for each arm were compared within patients, with P ≤.05 considered significant for comparisons. Patients with certain comorbidities or with stage IV breast cancer were excluded from the analysis.

A total of 38 survivors of breast cancer were evaluated. The arm on the cancer-affected side of the body was associated with lower fat mass and BMD, compared with the unaffected arm (P ≤.05 for each measure). Overall, lean mass did not significantly differ between affected and unaffected arms (P =.06).

When the nondominant arm was on the affected side, lean mass, in addition to fat mass and BMD, tended to be significantly lower than on the unaffected side (P ≤.05 for each measure). When the dominant arm was on the affected side, no significant differences were seen, which, the authors explained, may actually reflect losses of lean mass and BMD in affected dominant arms.

“The results of this study indicate that, in breast cancer survivors without lymphedema, the affected arm is susceptible to negative tissue and BMD changes,” the study authors concluded in their report. They suggested that nurses treating survivors of breast cancer should discuss resistance training with their patients and possibly refer them to a trained exercise specialist.


Artese AL, Whitney NJ, Grohbrugge KE, Panton LB. Assessment of arm lean mass, fat mass, and bone mineral density in breast cancer survivors without lymphedema. Oncol Nurs Forum. 2021;48(2):166-172. doi:10.1188/21.ONF.166-172