Cancer Rehabilitation (Rehab)

Author: Carolyn Vachani, MSN, RN
Last Reviewed:

What is cancer rehab?

Cancer rehab is a program that can help you prepare for cancer treatment, handle the side effects of your treatment, or help you heal after treatment. You may have many specialists on your rehab team such as:

  • Physiatrist (a doctor who works in rehab).
  • Physical (PT) and occupational (OT) therapists.
  • Speech-language pathologists (SLPs).
  • Exercise/fitness experts.

The providers on your rehab team will be based on your needs.

When should I be in a cancer rehab program?

Any person with cancer can talk with their cancer team about a referral to cancer rehab. Rehab can be done at any time before, during, and after treatment. Some ways that rehab can help:

  • Before treatment starts: take a look at your abilities to help you get ready for treatment. You may be given exercises to prevent or cope with certain side effects of treatment.
  • During treatment: help you handle side effects such as fatigue, balance issues, pain, or help you keep up with activities such as work and childcare.
  • After treatment: improve your strength and endurance (how long you can do an activity), help you get back to your daily tasks, manage lymphedema, or help you cope with the worry and fear of recurrence (cancer coming back).

Cancer rehab can help you recover faster, get back to your daily activities, increase your independence, and reduce the long-term effects of treatment.

What types of issues can cancer rehab help me with?

Cancer rehab specialists can help with many issues linked to cancer and treatment. These can include:

  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness), pain, and other long-term side effects.
  • Weakness or being deconditioned (weakened).
  • Balance, coordination, and trouble walking.
  • Peripheral neuropathy.
  • Lymphedema.
  • Side effects of radiation such as muscle fibrosis (scar tissue) and weakness.
  • Manage your daily tasks such as bathing, dressing, and your job.
  • Speech, swallowing and eating issues.
  • Mental challenges such as focus, organization, and memory.

Will insurance pay for this program?

Most insurance companies (health plans) will cover cancer rehab programs with a prescription from your provider. Every health plan policy is different when it comes to how much you have to pay (deductibles and co-pays). Talk with someone at your health plan to figure out what your out-of-pocket costs will be and what is covered before seeing a rehab provider.

How do I find a cancer rehab program?

Talk with your oncology team. Do they know of a program that they have sent other patients to? Ask your health plan if they have a preferred provider.

References

Brick, R., & Skidmore, E. (2020, February). Optimizing cancer rehabilitation through Activity-focused approaches. In Seminars in oncology nursing (Vol. 36, No. 1, p. 150985). WB Saunders.

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