Breast cancer rehab: Five things to know

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When you think of breast cancer treatment, you may think surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or any combination of these treatments. You may not know that there are rehabilitation services available to help with various side effects from breast cancer treatment.

If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, rehab can improve your quality of life. Here are some things you should know:

  1. Specialists provide your breast cancer rehabilitation. Your team may include physical, occupational and speech-language therapists, based on your needs. They’re trained to provide you specialized care to help you before, during and after your treatment. They help you get back to your previous lifestyle in the best way possible.
  1. After chemotherapy you may notice a change in your sensation. A common side effect of chemotherapy is peripheral neuropathy, where the nerves in your arms and legs (typically in your hands and feet) are damaged. Breast cancer therapy can help desensitize nerves and improve your sensory feedback. This can help restore your balance if your legs and feet are affected.
  1. After breast surgery, you may experience limited reach and flexibility in your arm. A therapist assesses your range-of-motion and prescribes exercises and interventions, like massage and stretching, to safely improve your mobility and function.
  1. You may have surgery to remove underarm lymph nodes where cancer has spread. As a result, you may develop lymphedema. Lymphedema is abnormal swelling of your arm or other part of your body. Breast cancer rehab can help prevent development of lymphedema, or help treat lymphedema if you already have it. Rehab interventions to treat the condition may include:
  • Specialized massage to help drain excess fluid.
  • Compression bandaging and/or compression garments.
  • Skin care strategies.
  • Specialized exercise.
  1. Many experience muscle decline and weakness after breast cancer treatment. A therapist can help you with exercises, as well as energy conservation and fatigue management strategies to improve your tolerance for activity. The ultimate goal is to help you return to your prior level of function.

Breast cancer rehabilitation ultimately helps improve your function and participation in daily activities. Rehab therapists are available to assist you with getting back to your personal best after the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

Author

McLellan ChristyChristy McLellan, PT, DPT, CLT-UE, is a physical therapist with AAMG Physical Therapy. To contact her practice, call 443-481-1140. 

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