When someone is undergoing cancer treatment, physiotherapy may not be the first healthcare field that comes to mind. Early cancer treatment is met with oncologists, radiologists, nurses, and surgeons. These healthcare practitioners are essential to the treatment and management of cancer. However, we should also consider the role of physiotherapy in cancer recovery.
Cancer treatment is an exhausting course, leaving many people fatigued, weak and with a compromised immune system. Just getting out of bed can be a huge and daunting task. This is where a physiotherapist comes in. Despite advances in medical treatments, individuals that receive cancer treatments typically experience extensive physical limitations during and after treatments, these limitations include and are not limited to cancer-related fatigue (CRF), pain, nerve damage, lymphedema, deconditioning as well as incontinence.
The Role Of Physiotherapy
There is strong evidence to support conservative management of these impairments through physiotherapy. As each individual experiences different impairments during and after cancer treatment, it is important to have an individualized evaluation to focus on rehabilitation. Physiotherapy can address common cancer-related impairments including lymphoedema, CRF, pain, peripheral neuropathy, deconditioning and genitourinary complications.
Physiotherapists in cancer care play a role in prevention, screening (red flags), management of cancer symptoms, proactive prevention/ management of acute, chronic and latent effects of cancer treatment (systemic therapies, surgery, radiation therapy).
Physiotherapists in palliative care work across all clinical areas – cancer care, neurology, renal, cardiology for instance. Physiotherapists assist with prevention and management of symptoms under a palliative model and do also play a role in a person’s end of life care.
Lymphoedema is usually associated with women post breast cancer surgery. However, lymphoedema can be primary or secondary and caused by a number of factors. Cancer treatment is just one. Injury/ trauma, congenital deficiencies, obesity, and infection are other causes. Lipoedema is also managed under this broader heading of lymphoedema.
The growing global population with cancer faces unique challenges from their disease and from the treatments they receive. Physiotherapists can make a unique contribution to helping them achieve health and a good quality of life. The prescribed exercises and lifestyle advice that physiotherapists provide can also help people reduce their risk of getting cancer.
The good news is that it is never too late to utilize rehabilitation services for cancer recovery. If you find that you are having trouble accomplishing daily tasks or functioning at your prior level of independence, seek out a rehabilitation expert and regain your vitality.
Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA)
Alappattu Meryl et al. Clinical Characteristics of Patients with Cancer Referred for Outpatient Physical Therapy. Physical Therapy. April 2015 95 (4) 526-538.