Dr. Angelica Lang (PhD) (left) with the Canadian Centre for Rural and Agricultural Health works with MD student Vivian Heinrichs. (Photo by Christina Weese)

USask breast cancer research targets post-treatment function, rehabilitation

SASKATOON--Researchers with the Canadian Centre for Rural and Agricultural Health (CCRAH) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) are testing movement and functional abilities for patients’ post-surgical treatment of breast cancer.

Dr. Angelica Lang (PhD), an assistant professor in the USask College of Medicine in the Department of Medicine and the CCRAH, said patients who have had surgical treatment for breast cancer can experience issues with pain, range-of-motion and secondary injuries afterwards.

Lang’s research explores relationships between types of surgeries and subsequent movement pattern alterations, as well as their implications for post-surgery rehabilitation.

“Hopefully what we’re able to get at is to better connect movement patterns to treatment types, to understand which treatments may be more likely to lead to a secondary injury,” she said. “That can help us better rehab the problems, or prevent them.”

The project recently received $348,076 over four years from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Project Grant program.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. The five-year net survival rate for breast cancer in women in 89 per cent.

Because diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer – particularly through surgical intervention – is so successful, Lang said it’s important to examine health issues for breast cancer survivors.

Using state-of-the-art motion capture technology, Lang and her team will study the range of motion and movement patterns of the upper limbs during functional tasks – such hair care, reaching upward or lifting overhead – for individuals who have received a mastectomy or two common types of breast reconstruction.

Lang believes by better understanding which treatments lead to which injuries or functional issues, and which treatments might make a patient more susceptible to those issues, a more precise plan for rehabilitation and pain management can be put in place.

“By looking at function and movement specifically by surgery type, we can hopefully give more refined recommendations for recovery, rehab and prevention,” she said. “If we can define some sort of association between specific surgeries and musculoskeletal dysfunction, I think that’s valuable information for patients.”

Another outcome Lang hopes to pull from this study is improved pre-surgery decision-making. If more information can be provided to patients regarding possible musculoskeletal outcomes, it can lead to better communication between doctors and patients through the surgery process.

“If we can better describe what the potential outcomes are down the line [after] surgery, the patients and the surgeons can have more informed and shared decision-making,” Lang said. “A mastectomy is curative. Reconstruction is not curative but is so beneficial in so many other ways... we’re trying to help patients understand what happens after these procedures.”

This project is an extension of post-doctoral research conducted by Lang. She said working with breast cancer survivors in this work has been “so encouraging” and looks forward to continuing this project with new support.

Lang credited CIHR for supporting the project, noting that moving forward with the research would not happen without the grant funding.


For more information, contact:
Brooke Kleiboer
USask Media Relations