A University of Saskatchewan team is researching upper-limb problems caused by mastectomies and radiation used to treat breast cancer.

"Breast cancer survivors often experience pain, stiffness, restricted range of motion and subsequent functional limitations," said Soo Kim, associate professor at the School of Rehabilitation Science.

"In a recent survey of Saskatchewan women, over 75 per cent reported at least one type of shoulder problem after treatment."

Research could improve treatment

Angelica Lang, a PhD candidate at the School of Rehabilitation Science, said her group wants to know how those changes affect a woman's ability to do physical tasks such as return to work, perform household chores or care for their children.

'We saw this sort of lack of information in this area that could have a big impact on these women's lives.' - Angelica Lang, PhD candidate, U of S School of Rehabilitation Science

"We're trying to measure that motion and to find if there are differences, and that will highlight if there is anything important there that could be translated to doctors and physios," said Lang.

"To help each breast cancer survivor regain her function as quick as possible, and guide treatment to prevent any future injury."

Lang said mastectomies and lymph node dissections are intensive surgeries that can damage nerves and injure chest muscles.

Radiation treatment is also known to affect muscles at a cellular level, she said.  

Study addresses lack of information: researcher

"Fortunately, many women are surviving breast cancer and the treatment but that also means many women are also having these upper-limb problems," said Lang.

"So we saw this sort of lack of information in this area that could have a big impact on these women's lives," she said, "and we think that this is an important area to look into to provide information — to not only survivors but also the people treating them."

U of S looking for participants 

Lang and the other researchers are hoping to recruit women, between the ages of 35 and 65 who have had a mastectomy at least six months ago, to participate in the study.

They will be asking the women to take part in one session in which they will need to wear motion-capture equipment while performing upper limb-focused tasks.

The researchers will be tracking their movements and muscle activity.

Anyone who wants to participate in the study can email angelica.lang@usask.ca or call 639-480-5595.

With files from CBC Radio's Afternoon Edition