Physiotherapy and Cancer
Cancer is everywhere. It seems as though everyone knows someone either with cancer or who has had cancer. From the diagnosis to the treatment, and often years later, cancer can impact a person in many ways. As a daughter, sister and friend, I have had shared experiences with those close to me going through a journey with this disease. As a physiotherapist, I have been fortunate to have training in helping people with cancer learn to cope with the physical (and sometimes mental) sequelae of the disease and its treatment. For this blog, I have decided to share some information on cancer and how physiotherapy might be able to help. I would be happy to speak with anyone interested in more information about this topic.
The “Stats” on cancer in Canada…
- Over 195 000 new cases of cancer will occur in Canada in 2015. More than half of these will be prostate, breast, lung and colorectal cancers.
- In 2009, there were over 800 000 living with cancer in Canada - this represents 1 out of every 41 Canadians.
- About 2 in 5 Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetimes and 1 in 4 will die of the disease.
- 63% of Canadians diagnosed with cancer will survive at least 5 years after their diagnosis (this is all cancers combined and has increased from 56% in 1994).
The physical impact of cancer and its treatments...
Cancer and its treatments can create many issues in a person’s body. The cancer itself can be responsible for someone experiencing pain, bone loss, muscular weakness and fatigue. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are typical treatments for cancer and can have short and long term side effects that can affect a person’s function. These can include:
- swelling/ lymphedema
- strength loss
- reduced range of motion
- scar tissue and adhesions
How can a physiotherapist help?
Physiotherapists are university trained health care professionals who help people in restoring, maintaining and maximizing their function, movement, strength and overall well-being. Physios with a good knowledge of cancer and its treatments can assist people navigating the journey that cancer brings. Education on the problems that can occur, self-care, providing safe exercise and activities guidance, using acupuncture, as well as, providing manual treatments such as decongestive therapy can help ease symptoms and deconditioning during and after treatments.
But does anything really help?
There has been a lot of research done on different things to assist with the cancer continuum. The best and most research has been done on exercise. Guess what?….exercise really does help. It has been shown to help with fatigue, pain, and muscle strength, improving quality of life and perhaps even reducing the risk of cancer. There are some things to be aware of though -- you can’t just exercise any old way. Certain cancers and their treatments can affect the body in ways that requires you to have knowledge of how to exercise safely. Physios can help set up a personalized program that is safe during and after your cancer treatment.
While each person needs to have an individualized plan, there are guidelines for cancer survivors, that have been set up by the American College of Sports Medicine. These guidelines review the literature on the safety and efficacy of exercise for patients undergoing (or having undergone) cancer treatment, as well as, the development of specific guidelines on how exercises can be adapted to meet the patient's needs.
Please click on this link to see the guidelines.
Exercises specific to Breast Cancer Population:
The Canadian Physiotherapy Association was integral in assisting the Canadian Cancer Society in creating a document on exercises after breast surgery. Check out this link to see the document:
“But I’m too tired to exercise”…..FATIGUE can be helped
Fatigue is the feeling of a lack of energy, tiredness, exhaustion and perhaps a feeling of a lack of motivation. It is a very common side effect of cancer and its treatments. It can be short term or can last long after treatments have finished. There are ways to manage fatigue and help increase your quality of life. These include talking with your health-care provider about your sleep patterns, the way you use your energy (learning pacing skills and conservation techniques), learning how to incorporate exercise and also discussing your diet and possible medication that can help.
Please check out this really cool video by Dr. Mike Evans…..”Cancer Related Fatigue”
Complex Decongestive Therapy for Lymphedema:
Physiotherapist with advanced training in Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT) or Complex Physiotherapy (CPT) can help people with lymphedema or those at risk for developing lymphedema. Lymphedema is a build-up of protein dense fluid -- it is basically thick swelling, that can be permanent. It can occur when the lymphatic system is damaged (such as when lymph nodes are removed or scarred from radiation). It is important to be aware of how lymphedema can occur and to recognize the signs of this so things can be done to prevent or control it. Research has shown that CDT is effective for treating lymphedema (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22920313) . Exercise is also important and has been shown to be safe in this population (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22002586).
Please refer to this link for detailed info on lymphedema:
Please refer to this link for a copy of LymphLink –an issue on CDT:
Acupuncture is the use of fine, sterile needles into specific points on the body. There is no evidence that acupuncture can be used to treat cancer, but there is scientific research that indicates it can be effective in helping with some the symptoms associated with cancer and its treatments. The effects can range from relieving nausea, reducing pain and stimulating the immune system.
Can you reduce your risk of cancer????
The answer is YES!!!
There are many known risk factors for developing cancer. Specifically, smoking is responsible for 30% of all cancer deaths and over 30% of cancers are linked to diet, obesity and lack of exercise. To reduce your risk of cancer follow these steps (taken from the Canadian Cancer Society):
- Keep a healthy body weight. Be active and eat well.
- Be a non-smoker and avoid second-hand smoke.
- Know the risks of alcohol. The less you drink, the more you reduce your risk.
- Protect your skin. Be safe in the sun and don’t use tanning beds or lamps.
- Know your body and watch for signs of cancer.
- Report any changes in your health to your doctor.
- Get screened and help find cancer early.
- Check your family’s cancer history.
- Understand how hormones and infections affect your cancer risk.
- Get rid of harmful substances at work and at home.
Check out this great interactive tool on the Canadian Cancer Society website: http://itsmylife.cancer.ca