Cancer Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation has been defined as “…coordinated, inter-professional care designed to enable people to maximize physical, social and psychological function within the limits imposed by the disease and treatment effects and engage in personally valued activities within their social contexts.”[1]

The incidence of cancer is rising, but the number of deaths is decreasing. This means that there are an increasing number of survivors.  This growing rate of survival implies that there are a number of issues that survivors are going to be facing. “Cancer treatment may affect physical, social, psychological, and work-related abilities. Rehabilitation helps people regain these abilities and maintain independence.” (ASCO)

Cancer rehabilitation helps survivors regain their physical strength and their ability to care for themselves. It helps them adjust to their new reality or new normal and deal with a sense of loss, reduces anxiety and depression, manages the symptoms of treatment, and reduces hospital stays. There are many services offered that survivors can or should access:

  • Physiatry is a medical specialty that deals with physical medicine and rehabilitation. The physiatrist coordinates rehabilitation programs that may include physical, occupational and speech therapies, social nursing, psychological, prosthetic, orthotic, engineering and vocational services.[2]
  • Physiotherapy helps to reduce pain and improve or restore mobility.
  • Massage therapy treats soft tissues and muscles in the body. It is good at reducing stress and tension.
  • Nutrition and diet specialists focus on food intake and problems related to swallowing and digestion as well as the nutritional value of foods.
  • Neuropsychology involves the management and rehabilitation of illness or injury, particularly to the brain. It deals with cognitive, emotional and behavioural problems.
  • Occupational therapy helps with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, mobility and home making.
  • Kinesiology applies the latest evidenced-based research to improve function, health and wellness of people who go through the cancer experience.
  • Speech pathology deals with a range of communication disorders affecting speech, language, memory and thinking as well as helping people who have problems swallowing.
  • Social work professionals help with the psychosocial needs of patients and caregivers throughout the cancer journey. [3]
  • Psychiatry may help dealing with chronic conditions resulting from cancer treatment, such as pain, muscle weakness, peripheral neuropathy (or nerve damage), problems having a bowel movement and/or urinating because of nerve damage. Psychotherapy or talk therapy combined with psychostimulants can help reduce some of the undesirable side effects of treatment by treating depression and fatigue. (ASCO, NIH)

[1] Dr. Sarah McEwen in “Presentation on Cancer Rehabilitation.” Ontario All-Party Cancer Caucus, November 22nd, 2017.


[3] Jones, Jennifer M. PhD, The Role of Tertiary Care in Cancer Survivorship: Rehabilitation and Risk-based Models of Care. Presented at the All Parties Cancer Caucus Meeting, March 21st, 2018.