Fiona McMahon PT, DPT
It’s here again. You can see pink on everything, ribbons, coffee cups, even football players. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women in the developed world. Over the years a concerted effort has been made to raise awareness for early screening and treatment of breast cancer to help save lives. We go over the basics about breast cancer screening in last year’s Breast cancer awareness blog which you can check out here.
For this year’s blog we are going to take a more physical therapy centric approach and talk about what happens from a functional standpoint, once you are finished with treatment and how you can help yourself to reduce pain, improve strength, and mobility with physical therapy.
There are different treatments for breast cancer, and based on the specific type (there are many different types) and how advanced it is, as well as personal considerations. It is important to manage recovery from your treatment as you would any other procedure. Although survival rates are improving, which is excellent news, it was found in an Australian study that 62% experienced an upper extremity impairment and approximately 27% had 4-6 impairments 6 years later. An impairment in the upper extremity can be described as loss of range of motion, which can impair one’s ability to groom oneself, clean, etc. Other impairments can include pain, loss of strength, and lymphedema. Lymphedema is a condition in which the body’s ability to filter return fluid and waste products out of a limb is impaired and severe swelling as well as permanent tissue changes can occur.
Physical therapy can be a wonderful and helpful tool in treating symptoms following breast cancer treatment and the benefit can extend beyond just symptoms following surgery. In the study cited below, hormonal and radiotherapies were the top contributors to pain. The good news is, physical therapists, especially the one’s at Beyond Basics are specially trained to recognize and treat chronic pain syndromes. Physical therapists may use techniques such as nervous system down training, gentle exercises and expert massage techniques to help lessen pain.
It may seem obvious, but if you are experiencing any difficulty with the strength or mobility of your shoulder or upper extremity, you should see a physical therapist right away. Scar tissue and fibrosis from your original treatment can severely reduce your ability to move your shoulder and the quicker it is identified and treated, the faster and easier treatment will be.
Patient’s experiencing swelling in their arm following breast cancer treatment should see a Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT). CLT’s are physical therapists who enroll in rigorous training to be able to treat and manage lymphedema. Lymphedema should be managed aggressively to prevent permanent tissue changes. We at Beyond Basics are lucky to have Victoria Lamanna PT, DPT, CLT working with us. She is specially trained to treat complex lymphedema cases and will be able to perform manual lymphatic drainage, fit compression garments, and provide you with lifestyle changes to help manage lymphedema.
Once you are done with treatment for breast cancer, it is important to take stock and note how you body feels. If you feel like you aren’t moving the way you used to, there is something that can be done and physical therapy is a great option from routine orthopedic care to higher level pain management and lymphedema treatment. If PT sounds right to you, give Beyond Basics Physical Therapy a call today or search the Lymphedema Education and Resource Network for a LANA certified lymphedema therapist near you.
Also check out our other blogs on lymphedema physical therapy:
Hidding J, Beurskens C, van der Wees P. Treatment Related Impairments in Arm and Shoulder Patients with Breast Cancer: A Systematic Review. PLOS ONE. May 2014;9(5): e96748