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Improving the Quality of Life After Cancer Treatment


Research-based evidence shows physical therapy can improve the quality of life for cancer survivors.
Patients who have undergone chemo and radiation therapies often benefit from physical therapy by addressing many physical and mental concerns. Working with a physical therapist can help reduce symptoms of fatigue and nausea, as well as decrease dependence on others to perform activities of daily living.  Oncology rehabilitation assists in maintaining current lifestyles; by improving self-esteem and lowering the risk of anxiety and depression, physical therapy increases the ability for the
body to heal. Read more on physical therapy can help your cancer recovery.


Exercise has been studied and proven to be effective in reducing the fatigue that is associated with cancer treatment. Physical therapy, even at low intensities, effectively improves function and can control symptoms in patients with chronic or debilitating illnesses. Cancer rehabilitation is most effective when patients participate in a full exercise program at initial diagnosis, lasting through treatment, and after treatment has ended. This is due to the chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery leaving lasting effects that can prevent individuals from achieving full return to normal level of function. Our skilled therapists use a combination of aerobic and strength training while working in circuits to expose the patient to a variety of exercises starting low and progressing slowly. Patients can expect a personalized exercise program while setting realistic goals to help return them to normal activities of daily living.


There are many complications that can arise from cancer treatment, however fatigue is the most common complaint in the first year after cancer treatment. There is no pattern explaining how long the fatigue lasts and can vary depending on the stage of treatment. Fatigue can be caused a few factors, however doctors are still studying the reasons why it occurs. Other problems can also play a part, like anemia (having too few red blood cells) or having a weak immune system. Poor nutrition, not drinking enough liquids, and depression can also be causes. Pain can make fatigue worse. Some people feel very frustrated when fatigue lasts longer than they think it should and when it gets in the way of their normal routine. They may also worry that their friends, family, and coworkers will get upset with them if they continue to show signs of fatigue. Therefore, it is important to get help so that secondary problems do not prevent or decrease your activity. Physical therapy can help with reducing fatigue in conjunction with your cancer treatment. It is important to talk with your oncologist about beginning a light exercise program designed specifically around the individual to help reduce effects of fatigue and maintain functional activity level without difficulty.


Cancer treatment can include a combination of different methods such as chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical intervention. Patients who have surgery can expect tightness in the areas affected like the joints, soft tissues and muscles. For example, if a breast cancer patient has a total mastectomy or a lumpectomy, there will be significant weakness and loss of function in the adjacent arm especially if the patient requires any reconstructive surgery afterward. Patients who do not have surgery and are treated by chemotherapy and radiation may experience numbness and tingling in the hands and feet and experience energy loss as a side effect from the medicine. Overall, the number one complaint after cancer treatment is increased level of fatigue and muscle weakness. Physical therapy for cancer patients utilizes functional exercise and mobility training to return patients to previous level of function with minimal to no complications. It is important for individuals at diagnosis or currently undergoing cancer treatment to speak with their doctors about starting an exercise program with a physical therapist to prevent any secondary complications associated with muscle weakness and tightness


Individuals who are diagnosed with cancer that require surgical intervention can sometimes recover from the surgery with complications. Some complications may involve decreased range of motion in the affected joint, decreased muscle strength, or loss of energy from chemotherapy or radiation treatments. No matter what type of surgery you had, it is important to do exercises afterward to get the joints and body moving again. Exercises help to decrease any side effects of your surgery and help you get back to your usual activities. Depending on the type of surgery, for some individuals, the rehab process can take up to a year before feeling like you’ve reached a “normal” level of function. Each individual has a unique experience with cancer treatment, therefore, the rehab process is uniquely designed to benefit the patient to maximize their outcomes and reach personal goals. Therapy should be designed to guide the patient towards an independent exercise program to maintain a relatively normal level of function.


Acupuncture is endorsed by the American Cancer Society for the treatment of cancer-related symptoms and is incorporated into a substantial number of major cancer centers across the country. Acupuncture can optimize the body’s functionality to maximize the healing effects of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and natural approaches to Cancer therapy. Benefits of acupuncture for oncology patients include: decreased side effects from cancer treatment, better compliance with oncologist’s treatment strategy, decreased cancer symptoms, improved functionality, improved attitude/perspective, lifestyle adjustments proven to lower the chance of recurrence, shift toward well being (the ultimate goal in healthcare).

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