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Tarah Ballinger, MD
Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine
Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center
Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation
Goal: To understand the impact of aromatase inhibitors on musculoskeletal health and developing effective interventions.
Impact: Dr. Ballinger aims to help patients maintain their functional capability and physical activity for better quality of life and prolonged survival after breast cancer. Insights gained from her research will help develop effective, patient-accepted interventions that preserve the patient’s musculoskeletal health.
What’s next: Using state of the art technology and multi-disciplinary expertise, Dr. Ballinger and her team will comprehensively study exercise capacity, muscle contraction, musculoskeletal tissue quality, and molecular changes in muscle tissue.
Aromatase inhibitors (AI) reduce recurrence rates and improve survival in women with hormone receptor positive breast cancer. However, the effectiveness of AIs is compromised by muscle toxicity and loss of muscle strength. This side effect of AIs significantly impacts quality of life and compliance with this life-saving medication. Dr. Ballinger’s research will help us understand the full spectrum of musculoskeletal effects of hormone therapy and lead to interventions to improve function and quality of life during and after breast cancer treatment.
Full Research Summary
Research area: To reduce adverse effects of aromatase inhibitors (AI) in patients with early stage breasts cancer to improve quality of life and breast cancer outcomes.
Impact: Regular exercise is important to maintain muscle strength during and after breast cancer treatment. However, many breast cancer survivors may find it difficult to participate in regular exercise, reducing the uptake of exercise interventions. Dr. Ballinger’s research has shown that low intensity vibration can preserve musculoskeletal strength. In her Conquer Cancer Foundation research supported by BCRF, Dr. Ballinger will test this novel intervention in patients receiving AI therapy to determine whether it may help prevent AI-induced muscle decay in early stage breast cancer survivors.
Current investigation: Dr. Ballinger’s Conquer Cancer Foundation project supported by BCRF will study muscle function to develop a deepened understanding of how aromatase inhibitors cause impaired musculoskeletal health and to develop effective interventions. The team will study exercise capacity, muscle contraction, the quality of the patient’s muscle tissue, as well as molecular changes that occur in their muscle tissue following intervention.
Dr. Tarah Ballinger received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and her MD from Indiana University. She completed her internal medicine residency at Vanderbilt University and her oncology fellowship at Indiana University before joining the faculty there in 2017. She currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine and is the Sheila D. Ward Scholar in Oncology at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center.
Her clinical practice is devoted to breast oncology and breast cancer prevention in high-risk patients. Her research is centered around how body composition, including bone, muscle and fat, and physical activity affect patients across the cancer continuum, from prevention to late stage disease.