Breast cancer is devastating for the one in eight women diagnosed. Fatigue, reduced mobility and function, pain, and lymphedema have major impacts on patients’ lives. But rehabilitation — including physical therapy, exercise, emotional support, and nutritional counseling — has been shown to improve and even prevent these issues.
Every person navigating breast cancer should receive individualized survivorship education, screening, and management of these issues that allow them to feel better faster and get back to their usual activities more quickly.
Massage therapy has been shown to reduce pain and fatigue and increase wellness and quality of life. The role of physical activity and exercise is essential, since multiple researchers have found that fitness decreases the risk for lymphedema and recurrence of breast cancer.
Nutrition is also a vital part of fitness. During and after radiation and chemotherapy, a patient has many unique nutritional needs. Nutritional counseling and education are integral to the survivorship journey. Additionally, any person going through cancer has new fears, so emotional counseling and group support are also important.
Outcomes from patients able to receive survivorship care has demonstrated significant results. There is improvement in motion, function, strength, and lymphedema. Patients report that they know how to eat healthier and they know how to start their respective fitness programs. Their sense of self and their role within their family and within society are drastically improved.
COVID-19 has shifted how survivorship care can be delivered. Many survivors have suppressed immune systems, and it would be a risk for them to come to a clinic. Therefore, there are now virtual services available. Similar outcomes are attained via telerehabilitation.
Not all patients or even physicians know about the importance of survivorship care. Patients need to advocate for themselves and ask for such critical care. It may be that this care is not available in their geographical area.
The nonprofit organization TurningPoint Breast Cancer Rehabilitation offers specialized rehabilitation services with in-person and virtual programs to support individuals with breast cancer near and far. TurningPoint uses a prospective surveillance model for breast cancer rehabilitation developed in conjunction with the American Cancer Society. It has a strong emphasis on early detection and management of issues along with patient education about treatment side effects that ideally begins at diagnosis or early in postoperative care.