Rehabilitative Therapy Helps Cancer Survivors Recover and Thrive––HealthSouth

Rehabilitative Therapy Helps Cancer Survivors Recover and Thrive

By Andrea Brennan, OTR/L, CLT-LANA, DAPWCA, Tara Belle, RN, BSN, CRRN, and Cathy Joseph, OTR/L, HealthSouth, Scottsdale LIVING WELL Magazine

Patients who undergo cardiac-bypass or joint-replacement surgery routinely are given specific guidance to the exercises and therapies they will need to return to their everyday activities and to prevent complications or relapse.

For cancer patients, the story is very different. More than 68% of Americans are anticipated to survive their cancer diagnosis but because undergoing often harsh and debilitating treatments, there is often little help for their return to normal life. While many may think the cancer care process is complete when the cancer treatment is done, many patients may benefit greatly from cancer rehabilitation during and following cancer treatment and recovery. As advances in cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, extend lives, cancer often becomes a chronic––rather than terminal––condition. As a result, patients need to perform ordinary activities so that they can care for themselves for long periods of time. Rehabilitation makes this need a reality. According to Scottsdale mayor, Jim Lane, “Incredible breakthroughs right here in the Shea Corridor touch people all around the globe with the potential to improve and extend quality of life for millions of people with cancer.”

The Shea Corridor is touted as the destination for cancer care. HealthSouth Scottsdale Rehabilitation Hospital, located on the Shea Corridor, offers programs to provide cancer patients with comprehensive rehabilitation services, amid mounting evidence that these can help speed recovery and improve quality of life.

Cancer rehabilitation can be broadly defined as the maximum restoration of physical, psychological, social, vocational, recreational, and economic functions within the limits imposed by the malignancy and its treatment. The multidisciplinary rehabilitation team approach is ideal for meeting the needs of survivors of cancer. The rehabilitation team consists of physiatrist, internal medicine, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech/language therapy, psychology, respiratory therapy, and nurses trained in rehabilitation medicine. The team assesses and treats the long-term effects of cancer and prevents or alleviates the effects of other conditions that may occur as a side effect of the cancer or cancer treatment. Depending on the specific cancer treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy, survivors of cancer can face numerous adverse consequences of cancer treatment, many of which are responsive to rehabilitation interventions.

Often times, the nervous system is damaged. The end result is a condition called peripheral neuropathy. Signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include burning and tingling, pain, numbness, decreased muscle control, uncomfortable sensations, light-headedness, digestive problems and elimination issues. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, bone loss, adverse body composition, and renal disease are also common in survivors of cancer and can be managed through rehabilitation interventions. Other complications include fatigue, depression, anxiety, fear of recurrence, cognitive dysfunction, pain syndromes, sexual dysfunction, balance and gait problems, upper or lower body movement issues, lymphedema, bladder and bowel problems, stoma care, problems with swallowing or dysphagia, and communication difficulty.

Self-management skills have the potential to decrease the risk of additional late effects—for example, the cardiac, pulmonary, endocrine, or bone complications of cancer treatment and may even reduce the risk of second malignancies.  A final benefit of cancer rehabilitation is the focus on optimizing self-care status and improving quality of life, preserving the ability to remain in the workforce and other life roles, and maximizing health and longevity.

Technology is often included in cancer rehabilitation. Types of technology include:   transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), infrared light therapy, cold laser treatments, vital stim, fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing (FEES).

Rehabilitation therapy helps to assist patients in regaining physical function and strength after the weakening effects of chemotherapy and radiation. It is the responsibility of the rehabilitation team to educate the patient in an effort to assist the patient in the maintenance of quality of life.  Patient education and lymphedema therapy helps to minimize cosmetic surgery, increase functional status, decrease psychosocial disturbances and other potentially life threatening complications.

HealthSouth Scottsdale Rehabilitation Hospital’s cancer program assists individuals coping with the devastation of cancer by rebuilding strength endurance and function. We understand that restored strength and hope are vital parts of recovery. Our rehabilitation team works with each individual to design a care plan to restore function and to provide training and education to adapt to the challenges of a patient’s lifestyle. For more information on rehabilitation treatment for cancer survivors, please feel free to contact HealthSouth Scottsdale Rehabilitation Hospital at 480-551-5400.