Cancer and Physiotherapy: How does a physiotherapist help people with cancer?
Throughout my career, I've had the opportunity to treat a variety of cancer patients. I have seen patients with para-aortic lymphadenopathy, osteosarcoma, breast cancer, prostrate cancer, and multiple myeloma. Some of them were in remission, some were cured and some were in palliative care. They were all in different stages of their health journey.
You might be wondering: "How does a physiotherapist help people with cancer?" A physiotherapist can help people with cancer as much as they can help people without cancer. People with cancer share the same life goals as people without cancer. They want to be pain free, they want to walk or move around, they also want to enjoy doing the things that they love. A physiotherapist is trained to relieve pain, rehabilitate people to regain their mobility and independence. They also help people with cancer achieve what they want physically. Unfortunately, there are not many physiotherapists in Malaysia that treats people with cancer because the public lacks awareness of how a physiotherapist can help.
Two common issues shared among all the cancer patients I have seen were immobility and pain. Although they were in different cancer stages, they all experienced pain to some degree. People with cancer are known to suffer from pain since chemotherapy or radiotherapy can greatly affect their nerves and increase their pain sensitivity. This is sometimes known as cancer pain. Commonly, doctors would prescribe pain killers to suppress pain but this should not be recommended for long term use.
On the other hand, Physiotherapy is drug free so there are no side effects. The physiotherapist is capable of treating any form of pain without causing any harm. The physiotherapist can help you manage your pain through electrotherapy, soft tissue work (massage), movement therapy, exercise, virtual reality, advice and pain education.
From experience, treating cancer patient is different because we will need to understand what they're going through, their energy level, their current emotions and their motivation level. The physiotherapist plays an important role to motivate the cancer patient to persevere and be resilient. It takes a lot of patience, a good ability to adapt and to make good treatment judgement. Some cancer patients respond well to treatment but some will take longer. The response to treatment is influenced by the number of co-morbidities (health issues), the willpower of the patient and the expertise of the physiotherapist.
At Ace Physiotherapy, we would perform a thorough health consultation with the patient and their family members. Then, we will move on to physical examination to get a baseline measurement on strength, sensitivity, range of movement, function and level of mobility. We will then discuss and set some goals with the patient with the SMART method (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic & Time). Once all the information is gathered, the physiotherapist will present the clinical findings, severity of condition, prognosis and treatment options to the patient and family. Normally, this will turn into a question and answer session before the physiotherapist proceed to treatment or advice.
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