More people than ever are surviving cancer because of the incredible progress made in research and treatments.
According to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, by 2020 there will be more than 18 million cancer survivors. Survivors deal with many side effects from their treatments including deconditioning, peripheral neuropathy, pain, fatigue, weakness, range of motion issues, loss of balance, lymphedema, difficulty swallowing or chewing, cognition issues and overall decreased function that impacts their quality of life.
Oncology Rehabilitation, a specialty field that includes physical, occupational and speech therapies for cancer patients, can help improve the survivor's functionality and quality of life.
Physical activity is integral to cancer care and not an optional add-on. New research shows that exercise training is safe during and after cancer treatments (Schmitz, 2010 ACSM Roundtable on Exercise Guidelines for Cancer Survivors).
Studies show improvements in physical functioning, quality of life and cancer-related fatigue in several cancer survivor groups, and there is growing evidence suggesting exercise decreases the risk of many cancers and recurrence.
The Macmillan Cancer Support in the U.K. issued the report, "Move More: Physical activity the underrated 'wonder drug,' " touting regular exercise as a way to reduce the risks of treatment side effects and cancer recurrence.
Oncology rehabilitation not only is strongly recommended by the Commission on Cancer, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network's guidelines state that rehabilitation should begin with cancer diagnosis and continue after cancer treatment ends.
"Cancer treatments add years to life, and oncology rehabilitation adds life to those extended years," said Dr. Michel Gevaert.
A proactive approach, with early interventions, is key to helping cancer survivors maximize their quality of function. With a doctor's prescription, an individualized oncology rehabilitation program is established as the patient begins his or her cancer journey and is adapted as he or she goes through various treatments such as surgery, chemo, radiation and medications.
The rehab professional's understanding of the ever-changing treatments and side effects is imperative when designing an appropriate and specialized plan for each patient.
As a physical therapist and cancer survivor, I have experienced the value of oncology rehabilitation.
When I was diagnosed, the field of oncology rehabilitation was not well known. Surgery decreased my range of motion and strength. Chemotherapy caused side effects of peripheral neuropathy, weakness, loss of balance, fatigue, pain, cognitive issues and put me into menopause. Radiation caused fibrosis of my tissues, tightness, skin issues and fatigue.
I researched and developed a plan to address each of my issues. As I recovered, I set a goal for myself to complete a sprint triathlon and reached it.
With a proactive oncology rehabilitation plan I know I would have recovered more quickly, and I could also have decreased my risk for some of those issues.
With my cancer diagnosis, I made the choice to maximize my function and the quality of my life.
Life is way too short, and I wanted to live an optimal life. To me, life is a special priceless occasion.
Oncology rehabilitation can help survivors live an optimal life by providing guidance and helping to prevent additional impairments caused by doing the wrong activities.
I'm hoping every cancer survivor chooses to maximize their function and talks to their doctor about receiving oncology rehabilitation as early in their treatment as they can.
Morin is a physical therapist who has 18 years of experience. She works at Susquehanna Health Rehabilitation Services.