As we all know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Canadian women. One in every 8 women get diagnosed in their lifetime; 26,300 Canadian women get diagnosed per year. The good news is breast cancer has a survival rate of 87% thanks to research advancements having improved early detection, diagnosis and treatment.
Like all of our patients, breast cancer patients and survivors are focused on meeting physical goals: returning to former activities; starting something new, like running or dragon boating; or perhaps, they are just looking for relief from the side effects of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery – namely edema, fatigue, and pain. During treatment, our entire team works together with the patient to help cope with, and eventually recover from, a physically demanding battle against breast cancer.
There’s new research showing that a progressive remedial exercise plan, like those designed by physiotherapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists can help as an adjunct to cancer care. Specifically related to breast cancer, patients who have undergone a lumpectomy or mastectomy that affects the axilla (ex. Axillary Web Syndrome), physiotherapy alone was proven to improve shoulder function, pain, and quality of life. In addition, patients who received a combination of physical therapy (i.e. chiropractic, physiotherapy) and manual lymphatic drainage, there was a reduced incidence of lymphedema. Furthermore, acupuncture has been shown to reduce post-operative breast cancer pain, anxiety, and muscle tension; while massage therapy has been shown to reduce physical discomfort and fatigue, and elevate mood.
Speaking of massage, an RMT who is a certified lymphedema therapist (like me) is important for those patients who notice swelling in their effected limb after surgery or radiation. In such instances, the combination of manual lymphatic drainage and compression bandaging/garments is the gold standard in lymphedema care.
When considering the restoration of quality of life, it’s important to consider the patient’s goals: physiotherapists and chiropractors can help rebuild muscle strength and endurance for daily activities. For elite athletes returning to competition, a sport physiotherapist can help get you back in the game. But at the end of the day, anyone who moves with a purpose is an athlete in their own right; and we will be there for you to get you back.
Cho, Y., Do, J., Jung, S., Kwon, O., & Jeon, J. Y. (2016). Effects of a physical therapy program combined with manual lymphatic drainage on shoulder function, quality of life, lymphedema incidence, and pain in breast cancer patients with axillary web syndrome following axillary dissection. Supportive Care In Cancer: Official Journal Of The Multinational Association Of Supportive Care In Cancer, 24(5), 2047-2057.
Listing, M., Reisshauer, A., Krohn, M., Voigt, B., Tjahono, G., Becker, J., & … Rauchfuss, M. (2009). Massage therapy reduces physical discomfort and improves mood disturbances in women with breast cancer. Psycho-Oncology, 18(12), 1290-1299.
Mallory, M. J., Croghan, K. A., Sandhu, N. P., Lemaine, V., Degnim, A. C., Bauer, B. A., & … Croghan, I. T. (2015). Acupuncture in the postoperative setting for breast cancer patients: a feasibility study. The American Journal Of Chinese Medicine, 43(1), 45-56.