MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Anne Swisher, P.T., Ph.D., of the Department of Physical Therapy at West Virginia University, will be honored by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) with the 2011 Oncology Section Stephen Gudas Award for Outstanding Publication for her article on arm and shoulder problems commonly reported by breast cancer survivors. 

The article represents the first collaborative research effort of the Department of Physical Therapy with the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center at WVU. 

As a physical therapist, Swisher has spent her career working with people with all kinds of medical problems. Breast cancer is a new area of her research. “I know that a lot of women who’ve undergone treatment for breast cancer have problems with their arms and shoulders, and I know physical therapy can play a role in helping alleviate those problems.”

Two years ago, Swisher and her research team began working with the Cancer Center to identify the problems associated with breast cancer treatment. They surveyed breast cancer survivors using questionnaires placed in the waiting area of the Cancer Center clinic. Participants were asked if they had any problem with their arms during treatment, how severe it was, and what they did about the problem.

Nearly 80 women responded to the questionnaire over a nine month period, and 75 to 80 percent of them reported they had arm, shoulder and hand problems during their treatment.  Only one-third said they had received any rehabilitation. “That showed us that there are common problems among breast cancer survivors and that they aren’t being dealt with,” Swisher said.

A subsequent study headed by Swisher involved surveying physical therapists throughout West Virginia to see if they felt prepared and comfortable treating breast cancer patients. “Most of them said they had the skills and were comfortable with that, but added that they seldom see those kinds of patients.” That study is pending publication.

Swisher is working with Jame Abraham, M.D., head of the Comprehensive Breast Cancer Program, and Hannah Hazard, M.D., a breast cancer surgeon at WVU, to see breast cancer patients who’ve had mastectomies and who could benefit from physical therapy. She tailors exercise plans for them, and if they need extended therapy, she refers them to a physical therapist in their community.

“As soon as a patient is diagnosed with cancer they are a survivor," Swisher said. "We want to help them have the best quality of life during and after treatment, and the rehabilitation aspect fits in with that.”

The idea to have the Department of Physical Therapy collaborate with the WVU Cancer Center in research originated with Scot Remick, M.D., director of the Center.

“I thank Scot for his vision in seeing the potential involved with collaborations and the whole issue of survivorship,” MaryBeth Mandich, P.T., Ph.D., chair the Department of Physical Therapy at WVU, said. “By maximizing our strengths, we have received a nationally recognized award and created an opportunity to really better serve individuals who are treated at the Center.”

“I congratulate Anne on her achievement and look forward to building on our collaborations with the Department of Physical Therapy,” Remick said. “It is one of many disciplines at WVU that we hope to engage in collaborative research initiatives with the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center.”

The article, “Frequency and Severity of Self-Reported Upper Extremity Impairments, Activity Limitations and Participation Restrictions Following Breast Cancer Treatment,” appeared in “Rehabilitation Oncology” – the APTA’s official journal that focuses on the rehabilitation of cancer patients. Mia Erickson, P.T., Ed.D., also from WVU’s Department of Physical Therapy, is co-author.

For more information: Amy Johns, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
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