There is a growing buzzword in the medical industry, and it is oncology rehabilitation. What is it? How can it help? How do you get it?
Surprisingly, rehabilitation services focused on physical, occupational, and speech therapies for oncology patients are not new. In fact, resources for oncology rehabilitation have been in place since 1971, as a result of the passage of the National Cancer Act. The main objective of the National Cancer Act is to allocate funds for the development of training, demonstration, and research projects in oncology rehabilitation.
When rehabilitative medicine is discussed, the focus is typically directed toward medical issues such as cerebral vascular attack (CVA/Stroke), spinal cord injury, multi-organ trauma or large bone fractures such as femur fractures. If we expand our preconceived ideas about what type of health event requires rehabilitation services, we begin to appreciate how rehabilitative medicine produces desirable outcomes over very different health events.
Nearly every FDA-approved cancer treatment available on the market today may produce a wide range of side effects, including: fatigue, neuropathy (numbness and tingling in the hands and/or feet), pain, damage to major organs/systems of the body not associated with cancer, mental fog or chemo brain, nauseas/vomiting, changes in sex drive, decrease in bone density, and psychosocial/emotion tolls. Given this information, it begins to make sense that after a person undergoes treatment for any number of different forms of cancer, it would be ideal to consult with a team of experienced rehabilitation healthcare professionals to continue care on the other side of treatment.
When making the sincere, life-altering decision to choose chemotherapy, radiation, and/or surgery as the best option for oneself, it is important to also plan ahead and seek out a team that knows the latest evidence-based care techniques to maximize recovery from the interventions.
So, if these services have been in place for over 40 years now, why is it that so many oncology patients have not received information about post- or pre-treatment rehabilitation services?
There is no one answer to this question; however, in my own experience as a rehabilitation liaison, some of the most common reasons are as follows:
1. When diagnosed with cancer, most interventions are felt to be needed immediately, and adequate time for planning and question/answer dialogue is not available
2. Most people do not know to ask questions or what to ask or how to ask
3. The focus of the healthcare team was on curing the disease, not so much the survivorship or the aftermath. As a side note, it appears that the oncology community is starting to focus more on quality of life post interventions.
4. Oncology rehabilitation is not a standard practice with oncology interventions
Moving forward, how can we collectively better help the people who have been diagnosed with cancer and have chosen to undergo conventional treatment?
The best and most direct way is to facilitate open and honest discussions between patients and healthcare professionals about the plan of care including what to expect before, during, and after treatment. This requires both personal responsibility and integrity along with a strong support system. Cancer can be a dramatically life-altering disease, and the results of the interventions patients choose have both immediate and lasting effects on their lives, as well as the lives of their family, friends, and community.
Patients should be encouraged to ask about expected quality of life after treatment, and what the oncology team has planned for their continued care. This is one of the most important discussions they can have, and they should feel well informed and comfortable with the plan.
DeLisa, JA. A history of cancer rehabilitation. Cancer. 2001;92(suppl 4):970–974.
Healthline Editorial Team. The Side Effects of Chemotherapy on the Body. 2014. http://www.healthline.com/health/cancer/effects-on-body
National Cancer Institute. National Cancer Act of 1971 (Senate Bill 1828). Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.