Oncology & Physical Therapy

Written by Sharon Smith, PT

The annual report from the American Cancer Society published earlier this year estimates that approximately 5250 new cases of cancer are being detected every day in the US. The good news is that the risk of death from cancer overall has been declining continuously since 1991. Improved technology, treatments and early detection have all contributed to this good news.

As someone who has been given the diagnosis of cancer in the past, I can tell you physical therapy was not be the first thing I thought of.  However, it became an integral part of my recovery process.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer Dec 2010 and in Jan 2011 I underwent a lumpectomy followed by a course of radiation. Although my cancer was detected early and I did not require a mastectomy, I did experience some shoulder tightness on the lumpectomy side.  You would think being a physical therapist I could just do my own rehab but, if I’m honest, I was probably my own worst patient. I elicited the help of a physical therapist friend who held me accountable through my rehab process. I now have no problems with mobility or function of my arm.

Physical therapists use individualized treatment plans to help restore function in patients diagnosed with cancer. This may include a specific body part, as in my case, or it may include whole body rehab to help restore endurance, range of motion, strength, decrease fatigue and even return patients to their specific work duties after surgery and/or treatment.  Many studies have also shown physical activity can help fight depression as well.

A cancer diagnosis can be scary but there are advancements being made every day. A physical therapist can be an important part of your medical team to help restore function and improve overall quality of life. I know it was an important part of my recovery.