Physiotherapy and Cancer Care: Providing Rehabilitation across the Cancer Continuum

Physiotherapy and Cancer Care: Providing Rehabilitation across the Cancer Continuum. Written by Dr Gráinne Sheill, Chartered Physiotherapist /Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Discipline of Physiotherapy, Trinity College Dublin/University of Dublin

25 HPN January 2022 Digital

Physiotherapy and Cancer Care: Providing rehabilitation for patients living with cancer is of the utmost importance. Oncology patients go through therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, which may damage healthy cells in addition to those that are malignant.

This can lead to physical and psychological problems, such as muscle weakness, lymphedema, physical disability and cognitive issues. Irish cancer survivors have reported unmet needs across multiple cancer types,
in particular: physical needs (specifically, pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbances); psychological needs such as the fear of recurrence; need for greater access to support services; sexuality related needs and information deficits.
Cancer rehabilitation focusses on recovery from both cancer and any associated treatments.

Rehabilitation, including exercise based rehabilitation, has the potential to limit and manage the side-effects of cancer and its associated treatments, improving the quality of life of anyone living with cancer. Rehabilitation also
appears to be cost-effective and may reduce both direct and indirect health care costs, thereby reducing the financial burden of cancer. The physiotherapy cancer rehabilitation team in St James’s Hospital provides rehabilitation to patients during all stages of cancer treatment.

From the point of diagnosis, our prehabilitation physiotherapist works with oncology patients to prepare them for surgery, often during neo-adjuvant treatment. There is evidence that increasing physical activity levels before
cancer treatment can lessen the complications experienced by patients during and after treatment. Each patient is assessed and given an exercise programme to maximise their physical function. Since it was established in 2019, the SJH prehabilitation service ‘OpFit’ has seen approximately 600 patients annually. During the COVID-19 pandemic the service converted to an online service, providing daily exercise classes for patients around Ireland.

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