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Cancer Rehabilitation: A new addition to cancer treatment

Chemotherapy, radiation and sometimes surgery are common treatments for people diagnosed with cancer. But almost every cancer patient can benefit from Cancer Rehabilitation at any point in their treatment, even when their disease is in remission.

Heptner Cancer Center Director Leigh Worsley is excited about the addition of Cancer Rehabilitation to the care plan for the cancer patients they treat.

“As a three-year breast cancer survivor myself cancer rehabilitation wasn’t something that was available, but I definitely am interested in how it can help me with my arm range of motion, particularly after riding my Harley.”

Two physical therapists, a physical therapy assistant and an occupational therapist from CCH Rehabilitation Services are now certified in Oncology Rehabilitation. These four specialists are the only ones in the three corners of the Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota, and four of only seven certified therapists in the State of Wyoming. Cancer rehab is different from orthopedic physical therapy for injuries to knees or other joints and can help with swelling, mobility, and pain.

A 2013 study showed that up to 75% of breast cancer patients experienced a decrease in their arm and shoulder range of motion and an increase in pain within one week after surgery. Beginning rehab treatment two to three weeks after breast surgery allows therapists to help the patient transition from the body’s normal reaction of inflammation and the creation of scar tissue with less discomfort and increased mobility. Therapy can also help with lymphedema, a collection of fluid that causes swelling in the arms and legs after cancer surgeries that remove or damage the lymph nodes.

Every patient responds differently to cancer treatment, but most can experience relief with therapy for their specific type of cancer. Chemotherapy often causes a loss of balance due to a condition called neuropathy, which causes symptoms of numbness, pins, and needles, tingling or burning sensations in the extremities. Cancer Rehab can help patients relearn how to go about activities of daily living and even teach the nerves and brain the correct gait or walking patterns.

Radiation treatment is precisely targeted but can cause adverse side effects for patients too. Prostate cancer patients can benefit from pelvic therapy to help with both incontinence and pelvic pain. Radiation therapy can also cause skin irritation and Cancer Rehab can help with the discomfort and with wound care if needed. Speech and language therapy provided by a speech-language pathologist can be beneficial for patients with head and neck cancers. And CCH’s orthotics and prosthetics services can custom design, fit and maintain undergarments, prosthesis, and compression sleeves for cancer patients of all ages.

Early intervention with rehab while patients are still undergoing treatment lets patients and providers set goals for successful outcomes and begin a relationship with their therapist for an additional support system.

Dr. Pauline Lerma, Medical Oncologist, and Stacey Hastreiter, Oncology Nurse Practitioner, feel that Oncology Rehab will provide a missing component in their treatment of cancer patients at the Heptner Cancer Center.

Cancer Rehabilitation services are covered by most insurance plans and require a referral from a physician or advance practice provider. Referrals can be made regardless of where the patient is in their cancer treatment phase.

Contact CCH Rehabilitation Services for more information on Oncology Rehabilitation at 307-688-8000 or visit www.cchwyo.org/crehab.