October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

breast cancer awareness

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:

Sources:

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

Promising Prostate Progress

By Riva Preil

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of deaths amongst males in the United States, and nearly 30,000 men die annually from the disease.  Most of these deaths occur by the time the disease has metastasized (spread) to the bone.  Approximately 250,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Clearly, the disease affects a significant portion of the male population, and it is no wonder that researchers have been focusing time, energy, and financial resources to search for the most effective treatments.  To date, the two most popular forms of treatment are with radiation therapy or prostatectomy (removal of the prostate gland).

Fortunately, recent research has proven that a new type of radiation therapy can increase the average life expectancy of men with advanced prostate cancer. The new medication Xofigo was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in May 2013. It involves emission of alpha particles from radium 223 instead of the smaller and less energetic beta particles (that were emitted from previous radiation treatment, strontium).  Dr. Chris Parker of London, lead author of the study which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that men who were treated with Xofigo saw the average survival time increase from eleven months to fifteen months, an approximate 30% improvement.  Furthermore, men who were treated with the new drug experienced fewer side effects, such as muscle weakness and bone pain.

The benefits of Xofigo may not end with the prostate!  In fact, it may help treat bone metastases related to breast cancer and other cancers, according to Dr. Robert Dreicer of the Cleveland Clinic.  Future research is indicated to further assess the potential benefits offered by Xofigo.

To learn more about this study and Xofigo, please refer to this article in the New York Times from July 17, 2013.