Breast Cancer and Physical Therapy
By: Vickie Rainville PT, DPT
In October, we celebrate National Physical Therapy Month and also honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Breast Cancer continues to be the most prevalent cancer worldwide and it is responsible for the most cancer related deaths. Survival rates are higher in high income vs low income countries. Other things that affect survival rates are late detection or detection once someone is in the advanced stages, as well as inadequate services throughout their treatment journey.
The World Health Organization started a Global Breast Cancer Initiative in 2021 to help bridge these gaps in care. One of their pillars speaks about comprehensive cancer management which includes specialized care. Unfortunately, treatment options for someone with breast cancer include surgeries, radiation therapy and medications (including chemotherapy, other medications to kill cells, targeted biologics or hormone therapies), but don’t often include physical therapy.
Although this specific cancer is a disease of the breast, the effects can spread throughout the body and cause functional limitations that a physical therapist can address. These include: fatigue, pain, muscle weakness, range of motion loss, and balance deficits to name a few. These limitations depend on the staging of the cancer, age of the client, prior functional level and weight of the client, ethnicity, radiation therapy received and lymphatic system involvement.
No matter what type of surgery or treatment one undergoes, it is important to exercise afterward to get the arm and shoulder moving again, once cleared by the physician or surgeon to do so. Physical therapists see clients at many stages of their breast cancer journey. We can address the scar tissue, cording, and pain that restricts motion after a surgery. (In some cases the client is not even able to get their arm in the position needed to have their radiation therapy.) In the later stages we continue to address posture, strength, joint mobility and fatigue to get all clients back to safe function. It is important to know that scar tissue and tissue that has been irradiated can cause limitations months to years down the road.
Those with greater functional limitations tend to be older, overweight, and start out at a lower level of function going into treatment for cancer. It is also important to know that research shows that exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce your chances of developing cancer or of cancer recurrence. Exercise can also help reduce post operative complications and anxiety.
Here at A Step Ahead Physical Therapy, you will receive a comprehensive evaluation to address the whole person, then we will address your limitations so we can reach your functional goals. All sessions will be 1:1 for 1 hour unless a shorter session is deemed appropriate and requested by you. Call today if you or someone you know would like more information on Post Breast Cancer Physical Therapy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vickie Rainville has been practicing physical therapy since 2000 with a Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy from Sacred Heart University then received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy in 2010, also from Sacred Heart. Vickie also holds a Bachelor's degree in Athletic Training from Springfield College. Vickie's practice blends a unique combination of skills developed through her experiences as a physical therapist and an athletic trainer. In addition to practicing in outpatient, skilled nursing, and home health settings, she also brings many years of field and clinic experience in high school and collegiate athletics. Her clinical strengths include manual therapy, orthopedics, sports medicine, geriatrics, neurological care, women’s health, and post-breast cancer rehabilitation.
1. Wang, R and Nakshatri, H. Systemic Actions of Breast Cancer Facilitate Functional Limitations. Cancers (Basel). 2020 Jan; 12(1): 194.
3. The Global Breast Cancer Initiative by World Health Organization.
5. www.cancer.org (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/survivorship/be-healthy-after-treatment/physical-activity-and-the-cancer-patient.html#:~:text=Research%20shows%20that%20being%20as,better%20as%20you%20begin%20treatment.)