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A Study of the Effect of Osteopathy on Breast Cancer Survivors

Lisa Marie Foreman, B.Sc., M.OMSc. - Osteopathic Manual Practitioner

Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in the world with an estimated 12.8% of women diagnosed and more than 246,000 new cases each year.

Due to advanced improvements in early detection, in addition to the effectiveness of oncological treatment, the population of breast cancer survivors is growing. The improved survival rate of breast cancer survivors can be attributed to the current patient-specific treatment options, which typically involve surgery followed by chemotherapy, radiation therapy or hormonal therapy.

A study was designed to test the hypothesis that a series of four global osteopathic treatments will have a statistically significant effect on the range of motion, grip strength and subjective disabilities of the arm, shoulder and hand in breast cancer patients. The effect of manual osteopathic treatment was studied clinically using quantitative, pre-post time series measurements and a controlled within subjects design. The control and experimental groups consisted of the same participants evaluated over four measurement occasions, thus providing internal homogeneity of the groups with no need for sham or placebo treatments.

This study hopes to present osteopathic manual therapy (OMT) as a valid option to reduce post-remission physical comorbidities and improve their upper extremity function.

The study evaluated OMT interventions in 30 breast cancer survivors between the ages of 30 and 70 with upper extremity dysfunction. There were three notable phases:

Weeks 1-4 (control phase with no OMT)

Weeks 5-8 (experimental phase with intervention)

Weeks 9-12 (assessment phase with no OMT)

Intervention consisted of four 60 minute global osteopathic treatments, specific to each subject based on her history and assessment. Changes in upper extremity were evaluated on four occasions: weeks 1, 4, 8 and 12. Three measurement tools were used to measure changes: digital inclinometer, hand dynamometer and a disabilities of the arm, shoulder and hand questionnaire.

Analysis of data revealed statistically significant improvement in all three measurements after global osteopathic manual therapy. This study provides an evidence based protocol for the treatment and prevention of upper extremity dysfunction following conventional cancer treatment. It is the hope of the author that the data will give Osteopathic Manual Practitioners greater insight into the implications of cancer treatment and somatic dysfunction.

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