Without the right support, cancer-related problems can extend beyond initial care—occasionally from the disease itself, but more commonly from side effects of surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.
While we’re making progress on less toxic and invasive cancer therapies, rehab still plays a key role in protecting quality of life afterward—we estimate that 60 percent of patients have rehab needs, sometimes months or years after treatment.
We not only help you survive, but regain control over your life. We do that with early intervention and a holistic approach—easing complications or preventing them to begin with.
Cancer rehab is provided through MedStar’s National Rehabilitation Network. Our experts are specially trained to identify and evaluate your needs and develop personalized plans to improve daily function and quality of life. Our program features:
- Doctor-Led Team: Unlike many community rehab centers, doctors specializing in physical and rehab medicine lead our program—pinpointing problems and potential solutions, then working with experienced, trained therapists. Our rehab team includes:
- Physiatrists (the specialist doctors)
- Physical and occupational therapists
- Speech-language pathologists (communication and swallowing therapy)
- Preventive Approach: We focus on education and intervention from the start, for better treatment tolerance and fewer side effects. Therapists attend head and neck tumor boards, for example, and we do lymphedema evaluations before all surgeries. We use sophisticated techniques like electromyography during or after treatment to determine the source and severity of any nerve damage.
- Tailored Therapy: We tailor therapeutic plans to meet your needs—from more conservative, first-option treatments like exercise and physical and occupational therapy to medications, injections, advanced medical treatments and rehabilitation technology.
- Access and Convenience: Once you’re out of the hospital, you can receive rehab care at your original treatment center or one of our National Rehabilitation Network sites throughout the region—your choice.
- Follow-Up Care: If problems show up months or even years later, you can easily and seamlessly come back for rehab care. That includes childhood cancer survivors who reach adulthood and experience late disease effects.
- Cancer Rehab and Insurance: Most insurers cover cancer rehab, but may limit the number of sessions. We work to coordinate care with your insurer.
How We Can Help
While different cancers and treatments can cause different problems, we estimate that 60 percent of patients need rehab. We give you a thorough evaluation at diagnosis and continue to monitor—and step in with help when needed—throughout treatment.
If we discover issues beyond the cancer symptoms before treatment, we can develop a plan to make recovery easier. We can also identify problems that may arise during treatment, before they hit you—early intervention is the key.
Fatigue is the most common cancer treatment side effect, but it’s not an inevitable complication that you have to live with. We can often determine the particular cause and design an exercise regimen that starts during or after treatment and can improve energy levels.
Removal of lymph nodes in the arms or legs during cancer treatment can cause lymphedema—painful swelling from blocked lymph fluid. The condition can develop days or even years after surgery.
While lymphedema is a particular challenge for breast cancer treatment, it’s tied to other cancers, too—uterine, prostate, lymphoma, melanoma, vulvar, and ovarian, for example.
All patients get lymph node evaluation and counseling before surgery, then close monitoring. We may also use sophisticated technology called bio-impedance to measure the electrical resistance in your arm to help diagnose lymphedema before it causes problems. Therapies include:
- Massage for manual drainage
- Compression bandages or garments to stimulate lymphatic fluid flow
- Flexibility and strength exercises (while patients had been warned against them for years, evidence shows they’re actually beneficial)
- Posture and breathing exercises
- Therapy for a frozen or weakened shoulder or other muscle imbalance
Head and Neck Problems
Side effects from head and neck cancers and treatments include:
- Trismus: difficulty opening the jaw
- Cervical dystonia: involuntary neck muscle contraction
- TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) Dysfunction: pain when the jaw is opened
- Xerostomia: mouth dryness
- Dysphagia: problems chewing or swallowing due to muscle weakness or structural changes to the face, mouth and pharynx (throat) after surgery
- Dysarthria: difficulty speaking clearly due to muscle weakness or structural changes to the face, mouth and pharynx (throat) after surgery
- Dysgeusia: reduced or altered sense of taste
- Mucositis: painful inflammation and ulceration in the lining of the mouth or digestive tract
- Headaches and migraines
- Posture abnormalities and shoulder problems
- Throat irritation and temporary or chronic swallowing problems caused by radiation: Any head and neck patient receiving radiation gets immediate therapy, including swallowing effectiveness and safety (aspiration) and nutritional advice.
Other Issues Treated
- Radiation Fibrosis Syndrome: scarring from radiation that can cause thickening of skin, muscle tightness and other symptoms
- Problems with:
- Mobility and range of motion
- Activities of daily living
- Memory or concentration (chemo brain)
- Nerve and soft-tissue damage from chemotherapy, surgery or radiation
- Pain in muscles or joints (such as chronic post-mastectomy pain or in the jaw/neck)
- Muscle spasms
- Depression and anxiety (including fear of cancer returning)
- Deconditioning from bed rest and inactivity
- Spasticity: tight or stiff muscles and spasms
- Neuropathy: nerve pain, tingling, burning sensation, numbness and/or impaired balance caused by chemotherapy
- Musculoskeletal symptoms: caused by aromatase inhibitors used in breast and ovarian cancer
- Altered skin texture
- Sexual dysfunction
- Spinal cord injury complications
- Amputation complications
Other Treatments and Services
We provide a full range of additional cancer rehab treatments and services, including:
- Aquatic therapy in a heated pool, to assist with range of motion, stretches, and pain management
- Exercises to increase range of motion, decrease pain, fix posture, or improve strength in the jaw, cervical spine and shoulder
- Balance/gait training
- Prescriptions for specialized equipment
- Injections for relieving musculoskeletal pain and improving range of motion—using anesthetics, corticosteroid or botulinum toxin
- Other medications for pain or spasms
- Manual and myofascial therapy and techniques to relax tissue, increase range of motion and decrease pain
- Splinting devices to reduce pain and increase mobility
- Other pain management, including acupuncture, electrical stimulation and gentle neck traction
- Post-mastectomy management
- Augmentative and alternative modes of communication, such as an electrolarynx, electronic devices or other aids
- Ways to manage problems with memory or other thinking skills
- Integrative medicine
- Prosthetic, clothing and personal image options