Univ. of Mich. researchers studying how to preserve shoulder function following cancer treatments

By: Ivanhoe Newswire
June 24, 2019

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (Ivanhoe) -- For some breast cancer survivors, the battle continues long after they are free of disease. Pain and stiffness continue to hamper their movements years later. Now, researchers at the University of Michigan are trying to determine the best options to preserve shoulder function.

Tina Harrison, 45, has had a lot of experience with cancer over the past five years.

“My sister had breast cancer, I went through everything with her down in Florida. My mom had ovarian cancer. My grandmother had breast cancer. Came back from my sister’s cancer surgery and went to my doctor,” Harrison shared with Ivanhoe.

Harrison chose to have a preventive double mastectomy, that’s when doctors found her cancer. Five years later, she still feels the effects of surgery: “Stiffness, yes. Pain, yes. It was all there.”

Researchers are studying long-term shoulder function in breast cancer survivors. Women who seem to lose the most function have undergone a procedure called a lat flap reconstruction.

“They basically take muscle off the back, move it to the chest wall and use that to house the permanent implant,” said David Lipps, PhD, Assistant Professor, Movement Science at the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology.

Doctoral student Josh Leonardis motivates Harrison to push against the robotic device, measuring how the muscle reacts. Tina did not have a lat flap reconstruction, but still has shoulder pain. Lipps says the goal is to identify which patients would benefit from earlier physical therapy.

“For functional tasks like lifting a bag of groceries off the ground or moving your arm around back to hook a bra,” Lipps explained.
Movements that can restore quality of life-after cancer.

David Lipps says he was finishing his training in 2013 when his mother, Marsha, was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed radiation. Lipps says his interest in radiation therapy and muscle tissue evolved to the work he does today studying surgical outcomes in breast cancer survivors.

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