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Evidence To Excellence: Neuroplasticity and rehab “Oncology Edition”

What is Oncology Rehabilitation?

Since we started our Oncology Rehabilitation program at The Recovery Project, we have been asked questions from people living with cancer, their families and even other medical professionals. We have been asked “how can physical therapy help me on my journey with cancer?” or “how can I exercise if I’m so exhausted all the time – won’t it just make me more tired?” These are all valid questions and ones I’m sure one naturally would ask when considering starting with a rehabilitation program.

Our goal is to make Oncology Rehabilitation a standard of care in the treatment of cancer– alongside treatments such as surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. We believe that oncology rehab can serve as a missing puzzle piece in helping patients improve their quality of life. For example, if an individual undergoes a hip replacement, he or she’s surgeon automatically refers them to physical therapy. And why are they referred to PT? That is because it is universally accepted that physical therapy can improve their hip range of motion or strength, as well as decrease any post surgical pain.

These same concepts apply both during and after any cancer treatment. Have you discovered that you have difficulty reaching overhead or have problems with dressing? Have you been tripping more frequently or even experiencing falls? Do you have problems focusing during conversations? Cancer related fatigue, peripheral neuropathy, and cognitive deficits are just a few examples of side effects that may stem from cancer and its treatments. Cancer related fatigue (CRF) affects 70 – 100% of cancer survivors. CRF is described as a persistent tiredness that is not related to exertion and not relieved with rest. There is strong evidence that suggests that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, as well as resistance training during and after cancer treatment can reduce anxiety, depression, and fatigue, while improving physical function and quality of life (NIH 2018). Regular physical activity has also been linked to increased chemotherapy completion rates, as well as reduced duration of hospital stays.

The good news is that physical, occupational, and speech therapies, can all specifically target and treat these side effects and improve one’s quality of life. Individuals should be referred to an Oncology Rehabilitation program at the time of diagnosis. Research states that cancer survivors can safely participate in exercise training, at all points along the cancer trajectory: at the time of diagnosis, during active treatment, and years post completion of treatment. That being said, it is important to be medically cleared prior to starting any exercise program. By participating in an oncology rehab program, you will be empowered by receiving education on how to best prepare for treatment and to learn safe activity levels during and after treatment. You will establish a relationship with your therapist, which is another important piece of the care team who will contribute to helping you be your best and healthiest self. Oncology rehab with a physical therapist can also help reduce many of the “unknowns” related to physical

ability during treatment. This leads to less anxiety on your journey and makes you more aware of potential complications which can lead to quicker intervention.

In the end, our job as physical therapists are to meet our patients where they are and help them improve their function and quality of life. We think that cancer survivors are perfect candidates to receive the benefits that skilled therapy can provide. We can’t wait to help you on your journey.

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