ONCOLOGY PHYSIOTHERAPY

Cancer Rehabilitation

Combining the skills of physiotherapy with the specialised knowledge and care required for helping people affected by cancer.

 

WHAT IS CANCER REHABILITATION?

Cancer treatments take a toll on a person's body in addition to the disease itself, so the eradication of cancer is not the final step in a patient's recovery.


Cancer Rehabilitation can be preventative, restorative, supportive, and palliative. It is recognised that patients may have rehabilitation needs throughout their care pathway. The fact that cancer patients are facing several months of chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy and usually major surgery, as well as the direct effect of immobility due to pain, means that muscle wasting, joint stiffness, as well as de-conditioning and fatigue are inevitable.


Impairments that may be relatively easily addressed by rehab interventions if detected early can become very difficult and expensive to treat if they have progressed over weeks, months or years. 

Cancer Rehabilitation can involve:

  • Individually prescribed exercises to improve joint movement, strength, fitness and energy levels

  • Education about management techniques for fatigue, swelling, pain, mental health issues, completing everyday activities and much more

  • Support and reassurance throughout all aspects of the cancer journey from specially trained health professionals who have the time and skills to listen and help. 

WHY IS CANCER REHABILITATION IMPORTANT?

Cancer survival rates have dramatically increased in the past 40 years as a result of improved prevention, detection and treatment. The newest treatments are training the immune system to hunt tumour cells, medications are keeping cancer growth in check, and yet surviving cancer is just the first challenge.

Many people emerge from treatment facing struggles far beyond their illness. Some survivors have minimal pain and disability, some are completely debilitated and a great number lie in between. A few common challenges cancer survivors confront include physical concerns (fatigue, pain, or changes in appearance or memory) or emotional distress such as depression or fear of recurrence. There are often also financial and employment implications of cancer treatment and survival.

The effects of the disease process, and often of the treatment itself, mean that patients commonly develop unwanted side effects. These side effects include:

• Pain, restricted range of motion, scar adhesions

• Lymphoedema, osteoporosis, neuropathy

• Changes in physical body composition, Loss of muscle tone and strength (including

pelvic floor tone and control)

• Fatigue, nausea, depression,

• Decrease functional and cognitive capacity

• Reduced sleep, poor posture and decreased energy levels

• Reduced fitness levels and decreased body confidence

• An increase in incidence in co-morbidities is also commonly seen


These impairments may adversely affect patient’s participation in activities of daily living and employment and negatively affect healthy lifestyle behaviours such as regular exercise.

WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE FROM RECENT RESEARCH ON THE BENEFITS OF CANCER REHABILITATION AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AFTER A CANCER DIAGNOSIS?

Clinical research has established exercise as a safe and effective intervention to counteract many of the adverse physical and psychological effects of cancer and its treatment. To date, the strongest evidence exists for improving physical function (including aerobic fitness, muscular strength and functional ability), attenuating cancer- related fatigue, alleviating psychological distress and improving quality of life across multiple general health and cancer-specific domains.

Emerging evidence highlights that regular exercise before, during and/or following cancer treatment is associated with reduced risk of developing new cancers and co-morbid conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. Furthermore, epidemiological research suggests that being physically active provides a protective effect against cancer recurrence, cancer-specific mortality and all-cause mortality for some types of cancer (research has predominantly focused on breast, colorectal and prostate cancers).