Cancer Rehabilitation (Rehab)

Author: Marisa Healy, BSN, RN
Content Contributor: Carolyn Vachani, MSN, RN
Last Reviewed: October 06, 2023

What is cancer rehab?

Cancer rehab is a program that can help you get ready for cancer treatment, manage your side effects during treatment, or help you heal after treatment. Your rehab team may include specialist such as:

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

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

When should cancer rehab start?

You can talk with your care team about a referral to cancer rehab at any time before, during, or after their treatment. Cancer rehab can start:

  • Before treatment: The rehab team will test your baseline abilities. They will see where you may need help and give you exercises to help you get ready for treatment. They will also help you with exercises to prevent or cope with side effects of treatment.
  • During treatment: The team will help you handle side effects such as fatigue, balance issues, pain, or keep up with activities such as work and childcare.
  • After treatment: You will work to improve your strength and endurance (how long you can do an activity), get back to your daily tasks, manage lymphedema (a buildup of fluid that causes swelling), and they will help you cope with the worry and fear of recurrence (cancer coming back).

Cancer rehab can help you recover faster, increase your independence, and lessen the long-term effects of treatment.

What side effects can cancer rehab help 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 and social worker. They may know of a program that they have sent other patients to. Ask your insurance plan if they have a preferred provider.


ASCO. (2022). What is cancer rehabilitation? Taken from

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.

Chowdhury, R. A., Brennan, F. P., & Gardiner, M. D. (2020). Cancer Rehabilitation and Palliative Care-Exploring the Synergies. Journal of pain and symptom management, 60(6), 1239–1252.


April 19, 2023

Happy Occupational Therapy Month

by OncoLink Team

February 28, 2023

Is That New Lump or Bump a Sarcoma?

by OncoLink Team

January 23, 2023

News on the Passing of the Lymphedema Treatment Act!

by OncoLink Team