Breast Cancer Aftercare

breastcancer1The medical and surgical care of breast cancer focuses on treatment of the disease and ongoing surveillance to detect recurrence.   While both of these roles are extremely critical, most women have physical impairments that result from the treatment of their breast cancer.  In years past, these physical impairments were typically not addressed.  Women were simply glad to have their lives back and didn’t report the problems associated with breast cancer treatment.  However, now the improved survival rates following breast cancer make addressing these complications to treatment a high priority.

What we have known anecdotally and seen clinically is now supported in the literature.  The complications to breast cancer treatment are common and amenable to treatment, and in many cases preventable.  Recently an entire issue of the journal Cancer was dedicated to complications to treatment of breast cancer.

To the degree to which the public and the medical community begin to better understand the complications to breast cancer treatment and the treatments that are available for these complications, patients will enjoy a higher quality of life.

Some of the complications to breast cancer treatment include development of scar tissue, limited movement in the neck, trunk and shoulder, and lymphedemaSurgery and altered body images result in scar tissue and limitation in movement of the shoulder, neck and trunk.   Radiation also creates scar tissue and abnormal posture.  Shoulder pain, bursitis, tendonitis and even rotator cuff tears can result from the cascade of events that follow the development of scar tissue.  Muscle spasming can be created by muscle imbalances that are associated with poor posture and can cause neck, shoulder, upper back pain and headaches.  Neck movement limitations are also common and can lead to neck pain and even the development of arthritis.  Fatigue, weight gain, and chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) are also complications to treatment.

Exercise, while difficult to initiate when feeling fatigued, has been shown to reduce CRF.  There are numerous benefits to generalized exercise.  Exercise is especially important for women being treated for breast cancer given the adverse association of obesity and breast cancer.  Recurrence of cancer and mortality from breast cancer are associated with obesity so exercising as a component to a weight control/loss program is important.

breastcancer2 “Physical Therapy at Rapid Rehabilitation changed my life—or should I say helped me to keep my life.  In 2008, shortly after I turned 50 years old, I was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer.  After 8 rounds of chemo I underwent a radical mastectomy with reconstruction on my left side.  A couple of months after my surgery I realized that I was unable to straighten my left arm.  I started physical therapy at Rapid Rehabilitation.  They explained that the fascia in my arm (due to the surgery) was like a bowl of spaghetti and would need to be “untangled”.  They used ASTYM, a technique that uses a molded plastic tool to comb out the fascia. I was skeptical, but after just one treatment I had significant relief.  Three months later I was on the road to recovery.  My husband and I planned a trip to Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario trip for the following summer, but in February 2010 I dislocated and fractured my left shoulder in a snow tubing accident.  I was devastated and thought the trip would have to be cancelled.  So back to Rapid Rehab I went.  On my first visit I was asked what my goal was for recovery.  I said that I would like to keep my plans for the backcountry trip.  We had seven months.  With excellent treatment and lots of hard work I was able to take the backcountry trip, complete with canoeing and portaging (backpacking) without any problems.  MANY thanks to Rapid Rehab for helping me to reach my goal and for getting me back to the activities I love.” – Andrea Gladden