What is cancer?

Cancer is a group of conditions where the body’s cells begin to grow and reproduce in an uncontrollable way. These cells can then invade and destroy healthy tissue, including organs.
Cancer sometimes begins in one part of the body before spreading to other parts. This process is known as metastasis. There are over 200 different types of cancer, each with a specific name, treatment and chance of being cured.

How can physiotherapy help?

Chartered Physiotherapists work in cancer care across a variety of settings alongside the other members of the healthcare team to promote independence and optimise quality of life. The following are some of the ways Chartered Physiotherapists can help people with cancer and cancer survivors.

Surgical Complications: Chartered Physiotherapists can help with regaining movement and avoiding complications after breast and other cancer related surgeries.

Neuro-Oncology: Chartered Physiotherapists have a key role in assessing and rehabilitating balance, co-ordination, strength and mobility in patients whose cancer affects their nervous system, like brain or spinal cancers

Pain: Chartered Physiotherapists use a variety of approaches to the management of pain, including, active movement, thermal modalities, electrotherapy modalities (e.g. TENS) and massage.

Fatigue: Chartered Physiotherapists are experts in exercise prescription. Exercise is safe during and after cancer treatment. It has been found to improve fitness, muscular strength quality of life and fatigue in persons treated for breast, prostate and haematological cancers.

Decreased mobility: Mobility can deteriorate at various stages of cancer treatment. Chartered Physiotherapists use a combination of exercise and gait re-education (and occasionally provision of mobility aids) to optimise mobility.

Respiratory distress: Chartered Physiotherapists can help to address some respiratory complaints, such as breathlessness and difficulty clearing respiratory secretions through use of breathing control strategies and active exercise.

Lymphoedema: Chartered Physiotherapists provide advice on ways to minimise the risk of developing lymphoedema, and, offer lymphoedema management (self-massage, massage and compression) as necessary.

Chartered Physiotherapists also work in rehabilitation in cancer care. Rehabilitation can include very specific exercises (e.g. following Neurological or Orthopaedic surgery or injury), or, a more generalised exercise programme following other treatments (e.g. following Chemotherapy or Radiotherapy). Exercise programmes are based on current best practice guidelines and are tailored to suit individual requirements (e.g. post-treatment guidelines, overall health status and personal exercise preferences).

Useful Links and Resources

Irish Cancer Society
HSE Cancer Services

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