The National Cancer Institute estimates that cancer affects 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women in the United States. Those statistics are astonishing; however, the good news is that the survival rates for cancer are approaching 70%. That means that most people treated for cancer will survive, with currently around 17 million cancer survivors in the United States. The bad news is that more than 60% of those survivors will experience some type of impairment that limits them from completing their daily activities, and nearly 1/3 will have a permanent disability.
Just like any other surgery or invasive medical treatment, cancer treatments, and their side effects can greatly impact physical function. However, seeking treatment by a licensed rehabilitation therapist can greatly reduce the degree of physical and functional decline from treatments. In fact, some statistics show that individuals receiving rehabilitation during and after treatment recover their full function. There has even been a push for “Pre-hab”, which is rehabilitation treatment prior to starting cancer treatments. Similar to joint replacements, getting in better physical functioning prior to cancer treatments have shown better outcomes and less side effects from treatment.
Cancer treatment commonly involves one or a combination of the following: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and/or hormone-blocking medication. Your medical oncology team has the momentous task of determining what treatment strategy is best for your individual cancer characteristics. Unfortunately, all of the above have their own set of side effects that can cause reduced physical function and pain. The side effects also take an emotional toll on the patient, their families, and caregivers.
A licensed rehabilitation therapist can help with the following conditions resulting from cancer treatments, such as lymphedema, scar tissue formation, cancer fatigue syndrome, nerve damage, axillary web syndrome, and radiation fibrosis. All the above conditions can have an impact on a person’s daily living and quality of life.
The American Physical Therapy Association has recognized the importance of rehabilitation for the oncology population and has added oncology specialty to their Board certifications. Speak with your oncology team if you feel that you would benefit from an assessment and treatment of potential side effects.
Jamie Cinotto, DPT, CWS, CLT-LANA, ONC
Certified Lymphedema therapist
Certified Wound Specialist
Board-Certified Specialist in Oncology