Care of the Whole Patient—During and After Treatment

April 13, 2016

There’s a new term floating around the cancer community: cancer rehabilitation. What does this mean? Cancer rehabilitation is a combination of services that help a cancer survivor find his or her “new normal” after cancer. Cancer rehabilitation is a field of growing importance as more Americans than ever are living with a history of cancer. Due to improved early detection methods, almost two-thirds of cancer survivors live at least five years beyond their diagnosis: there are currently 14.5 million Americans living with a cancer history, and by 2024, that number is expected to rise to 19 million. Cancer rehabilitation strives to help survivors—those who have no disease after treatment or those who are living with cancer—focus not just on living, but on thriving.

Oncology rehabilitation encompasses all services designed to bridge the gap between life as a patient and life as a survivor. Services include offsetting strength or mobility limitations imposed by the cancer or its treatment through physical therapy, creating a follow-up care plan with a physician, increasing survivor ability to care for him or herself and provision of emotional support for patients to adapt to lifestyle changes that may result from cancer or treatment. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, cancer rehabilitation includes services such as patient and family education and counseling, pain treatment, smoking cessation support, in-home living assistance and nutritional advice.

A recent Washington Post article, by Suzanne Allard Levingston, draws attention to the rising need for cancer rehabilitation to become the standard of care in cancer treatment. Levingston specifically focuses on the connection between health-conscious living—diet, nutrition and appropriate activity levels to maintain a healthy weight and avoid obesity—and the prevention of first-time cancers, cancer recurrence, and diseases risk factors similar to those of cancer. Cancer treatment can directly impact the heart, and the side effects of treatment can make it harder for survivors to participate in an active lifestyle. As a result of these challenges, cancer survivors can have an increased risk for other diseases, including diabetes and heart disease, as well as cancer recurrence. While Levingston states that no studies have yet been completed to assess the link between lifestyle and risk or mortality after a cancer diagnosis, research in currently being conducted in this area so that cancer survivors will have evidence-based care and recommendations to depend on.

Nutrition and physical activity are just some of the aspects of healthy living that survivors should consider as they transition to a post-treatment life. The American Society of Clinical Oncology also recommends limiting the intake of alcohol, quitting tobacco use, stress management, learning to cope with emotional distress, sun protection, and staying in contact with healthcare teams to survivors after cancer.

As the percentage of the U.S. population living with a history of cancer grows, so will the emphasis on caring for a survivor after treatment, as well as patients during treatment. Speak to your care team about the possibility of a cancer rehabilitation referral to work on regaining strength and counteracting the effects of treatment, creating a follow-up care plan and where to find more services such as counseling, nutritional advice and in-home care. Cancer rehabilitation services are integral to making the physical and emotional transition to life after cancer smoother for survivors so that they can live well and thrive.

Learn more about Cancer Support Community’s support resources.

For a follow-up care plan templates and other survivorship from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, click here.