A Samuel Merritt University (SMU) faculty member is recruiting breast cancer survivors for research into how surgery and other treatments affect body image, quality of life, and the health of the nervous system.
Associate Professor Benjamin Boyd says the research aims to identify what women have long been saying about impairments they suffer after undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The goal, he says, is to help develop more effective post-treatment rehabilitation strategies.
“The experience of pain, mobility issues and loss of function are significant issues facing women who have had breast cancer,” says Dr. Boyd, who teaches in SMU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. “We hope we can help those women recover faster and more completely.”
Dr. Boyd is the primary investigator of the research project, “Effects of Breast Cancer Treatment on Right and Left Limb Recognition.” The other researchers are Associate Professor Betty Smoot at the University of California, San Francisco; Professor Robert Nee at Pacific University; Professor Guy McCormack at Samuel Merritt University; and David Butler of Neuro Orthopaedic Institute in Adelaide, Australia.
While medical advances in screening and treatment have led to more women surviving breast cancer — with nearly 3 million survivors in the U.S. alone — complications such as severe and ongoing pain, swelling and limited mobility can persist.
The researchers hope to better understand the impact of breast cancer treatments on body image, pain, quality of life, function, sensation, and nerve sensitivity in the upper limbs. They are exploring if breast cancer survivors experience the same perceptual changes as previous research has shown affect some people with longstanding hand or arm pain — specifically the difficulty in recognizing the laterality (left from right) of a picture of their affected body part.
“We’re looking at signs that women’s brains are rewiring,” says Dr. Boyd. He notes that while persistent pain has recently been associated with changes in the brain and nervous system, some breast cancer survivors have reported a sensory loss or “change in ownership” of their breast, arm, hand or other affected body part following diagnosis and treatment.
“We are trying to explore the relationship between breast cancer treatments and changes in body image associated with ongoing pain and disability,” he says.
The researchers are recruiting women 18 years or older who have completed treatment for unilateral breast cancer as well as women with no history of the disease for comparison purposes. The requirements include:
- For an in-person study of the effect of breast cancer treatment in nerve sensitivity over time, participants who have completed treatment one to three months prior to enrollment attend three two-hour exams (each six months apart) to explore sensation and arm mobility.
- For an in-person study of the effects of breast cancer treatment on nerve mobility, participants who have completed treatment one to three months prior to enrollment attend a one-and-a-half-hour exam using ultrasound imaging during common wrist movements.
- For an online study of the effects of breast cancer treatment on body perception, participants who have completed treatment within one month to 5 years prior to enrollment complete a short computer survey.