Research Looks to Improve Outcomes For Breast Cancer Survivors Through Physical Therapy

A diagnosis of breast cancer is a life-changing event. The National Cancer Institute estimates more than 266,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. However, a diagnosis is only the beginning of the journey. Treatment can be grueling and include surgery to remove the cancer, mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and other newer targeted therapies. All treatments can lead to side effects with varying degree of severity, including fatigue, lymphedema, peripheral neuropahy, pain, cognitive changes, and heart problems.  Physical therapy researchers like Ann Marie Flores, PT, PhD, are looking to learn more about the role of physical therapy.

In 2016, Flores became the first-ever recipient of a $40,000 Moffat Geriatric Research Grant to a physical therapy researcher working to improve the lives of breast cancer survivors.

“Being the first to receive this prestigious award, established by and named for one of the most influential people in our field, is an honor that has truly humbled me,” said Flores. “It comes at a time when our medical oncology colleagues begin to acknowledge cancer rehabilitation in a way that we have never seen before.”

In her study titled Breast Cancer Impairment Knowledge Study, Flores looks to learn more about what breast cancer survivors 65 years and older know about physical and functional impairments and help researchers understand what can be done to help survivors.

While the implications of avoiding exercise in cancer survivors have been widely studied, Flores explains that “physical therapy and self-management of impairments remain absent.”

Flores explains that the combination of aging with persistent impairments and comorbidity make the people who are elderly more susceptible to the erosion of function and disability.

“I hope this project will help shed light on understanding the barriers to physical therapy utilization on the referring provider side. The Moffat grant will help unpack the reasons for this and provide important clues on how to overcome these barriers to care so our patients won’t have to spend their elderly years still dealing with cancer-related impairments.”

Flores is excited to be working on what she describes as the first study of its kind to be conducted among oncology specialists and breast cancer survivors that will use the health belief model to measure breast cancer-related impairments and the role of physical therapy in addressing them.

“I have devoted my career to the reduction of physical and functional impairments from chronic disease, particularly for those who bear the greatest burden of side effects,” says Flores. “My ultimate goal is to see my research findings translated into an intervention and referral model that includes physical therapy to improve the standard of treatment planning and management for breast cancer survivors.” She hopes to use information from this study to apply for additional funding.

Ann Marie Flores is an associate professor of physical therapy and human movement sciences and medical social sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She is the Director of the Cancer Rehabilitation Studies (CARES) Laboratory, and a full member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Cancer Survivorship Institute at Northwestern University.

This grant is made possible by the Marilyn Moffat Fund for Geriatric Research.

Select Foundation Grants and Scholarships Awarded

Ann Marie Flores, PT, PhD


  • Cheville AL, Rhudy L, Basford JR, Griffin JM, Flores AM, “How Receptive Are Patients With Late Stage Cancer to Rehabilitation Services and What Are the Sources of Their Resistance?”, Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation. 2017 Feb; 98(2): 203-210. doi:

  • Flores AM, Nelson J, Sowles L, Bienenstock K, Blot WJ, “Physical impairments and physical therapy services for minority and low-income breast cancer survivors” SpringerPlus. 2016 Dec; 5(1): doi:
  • Galantino ML, Eden MM, Spinelli BA, Flores AM, “Edge task force on head and neck cancer outcomes a systematic review of Outcome Measures for Temporomandibular-related Dysfunction” Rehabilitation Oncology. 2015 Jan; 33(2): 6-14.