Oncology rehabilitation is a type of physical therapy focused on people who are being treated or have been treated for cancer. As surviving cancer becomes more and more common, the number of people living with the effects of cancer treatment is increasing, and thus the field of oncology rehabilitation is growing. 

According to the American Cancer Society, people who are being treated for cancer or who have survived cancer should get regular exercise to increase energy and improve mobility and ability to engage in their normal activities. Regular exercise can also improve cancer survival rates.

Physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other healthcare professionals at Beaumont work together to provide oncology rehabilitation services. These services can include exercise plans and treatment programs that reduce the severity of the effects of cancer and cancer treatment. 

Physical therapists can perform evaluations and provide assessments in order to develop treatment plans. These plans may include functional training, strengthening exercises, relaxation techniques, exercises and other types of therapy to decrease fatigue, massage therapy and other hands-on therapies, and complete decongestive therapy (CDT).

Cancer treatment – and cancer itself – can be very hard on your body. Physical therapy helps reduce pain, restore your strength, increase your endurance, and improve your overall functioning during or after cancer treatment. Your treatment will depend upon the type of cancer you have, your treatment, your symptoms (either from the cancer or from the treatment), and your general health and physical abilities. 

Therapy after radiation

Radiation therapy can cause tissue trauma and inflammation, which can lead to scar tissue that eventually can cause reduced flexibility and mobility and feelings of tightness around the scar. Depending on the location of the radiation and resulting tissue tightness, radiation can cause difficulties moving your neck, face, and jaw; limited range of motion and posture problems; and functional issues with balance, walking, and other movement. 

The goals of physical therapy to counteract the effects of radiation include:

  • Healing your skin and other tissue
  • Reducing swelling and inflammation
  • Decreasing pain
  • Limiting scar tissue formation or reducing scar tissue
  • Improving range of motion
  • Increasing mobility
  • Helping you return to your activities sooner

The best time to start physical therapy to address symptoms of radiation is during the early stages of your treatment; however, it’s never too late for you to start. The effects of radiation can last months or years, and physical therapy can help regardless of when you begin.

Therapy after surgery or chemotherapy

If you’re going to have surgery to treat cancer, your physical therapist will work with you before surgery to evaluate your health, the symptoms you’re experiencing, and how those symptoms are affecting your ability to participate in your activities. After that evaluation, your therapist will develop a treatment plan to address your concerns. Treatment can begin before surgery, and it will continue after surgery. The goal of post-surgery physical therapy is to help your incisions heal, keep scars from forming and reducing scar tissue, minimize your pain, and help keep you moving. Physical therapy can help you recover faster and make your recovery process easier. 

Physical therapy can also help alleviate some of the side effects of chemotherapy, including fatigue, muscle weakness, numbness, pain, bone loss, decreased coordination, swelling, skin sensitivity, and more. Therapy can also improve your strength and agility so you’re less likely to fall or injure yourself due to the chemo side effects.

Physical therapy after surgery or chemotherapy may:

  • Help you feel better – This may be due in part to treatment to reduce pain, numbness, muscle cramps, and other uncomfortable physical sensations
  • Improve your endurance and reduce fatigue 
  • Build bone strength and prevent bone loss
  • Reduce swelling and fluid buildup, including lymphedema
  • Help you maintain and improve physical fitness
  • Reduce stress and improve your mood
  • Help you perform your normal daily activities
  • Improve your ability to walk
  • Increase your range of motion, strength, and flexibility
  • Improve your balance and coordination

Treating lymphedema

Lymphedema is a buildup of fluid in the body that can occur when people undergo cancer treatment, especially surgery that involves lymph node examination or removal. It’s uncomfortable, and it can limit your range of motion. Those who have breast cancer surgery find that lymphedema can cause significant impairment because range of motion is so limited that they cannot lift their arm(s) over their head. 

Physical therapy can help manage this effect with hands-on lymph drainage, lymphatic bandaging, aerobic exercises, and exercises to increase range of motion. Studies show that people who receive physical therapy after breast cancer surgery have less pain and greater range of motion than those who do not receive physical therapy.

How physical therapy can alleviate side effects of treatment

The effects of cancer treatment – and even some cancers themselves – can lead to significant disabilities and difficulties performing your normal daily activities. Oncology rehabilitation can help with many of the challenges that come along with cancer, including pain, weakness, fatigue, or just generally feeling bad. 

Physical therapists can offer treatments that:

  • Help you perform daily activities (and feel better doing so)
  • Improve your strength and endurance
  • Improve your ability to balance

Oncology rehabilitation at Beaumont

The rehabilitation department at Beaumont offers physical therapy and general rehabilitation care to people with cancer and cancer survivors as part of the Cancer Survivorship Program. Oncology rehabilitation is a multidisciplinary treatment that includes physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, and more. Our healthcare providers are specially trained in cancer wellness, exercise, and rehabilitation care. We even have clinicians who are certified by the American College of Sports Medicine in cancer exercise training. They are well versed in how exercise can affect recovery and survivorship of people with cancer.

Physical therapists and other team members at Beaumont will coordinate care with your primary care doctor, your oncologist, and your nurse navigator to ensure you receive seamless care throughout your treatment and survivorship journey. 

Our oncology rehabilitation program can help with several symptoms of cancer and cancer treatment, including: 

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Scar adhesions
  • Lymphedema
  • Restricted joint motion
  • Cardiac respiratory fitness
  • Walking or balancing problems
  • Fecal or urinary incontinence
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Problems with cognition and memory, including “brain fog”
  • Difficulty performing your daily activities
  • Swallowing problems

Programs available

Consultation, screening, and recommendations

The Cancer Survivorship Program at Beaumont brings patients and healthcare providers together from the time of diagnosis to promote optimized health and healing of mind, body, and spirit through integrative practices and education before, during and after cancer treatment.

Physical therapists can perform screens and evaluations soon after a cancer diagnosis to create an individualized treatment and exercise plan. Therapists work closely with oncology nurse navigators and physicians at the multidisciplinary clinics and Cancer Centers. Multidisciplinary clinics bring the entire team together to manage and coordinate care for each patient.

Exercise and wellness

Overseen by a clinician, this program promotes fun, fitness, function, and friendship for people before, during, and after cancer treatment.

Pre-habilitation and breast cancer survivor surveillance

Pre-habilitation is treatment focused on decreasing the likelihood of physical effects of cancer treatment, such as decreased strength and range of motion, decreased tissue flexibility, lymphedema, chronic fatigue, and urinary and fecal incontinence or urgency.
Through this program, breast cancer survivors can meet with a physical therapist to proactively find ways to reduce physical impacts of breast cancer.

To schedule a new appointment please call 248-655-3191.