Radiation for stage 4 tonsil and throat cancer left Sean with muscle pain and weakness as well as nerve damage. A combination of physical therapy, ultrasound and Botox got him back to life, family and his favorite activity, surfing.

What is cancer rehabilitation?

Living well beyond cancer

Despite ongoing advancements, cancer and its treatments still often cause serious physical and mental problems. Pain, fatigue and emotional distress are the most common challenges reported, but many people also experience weakness, swelling, stiffness, cognitive decline, and/or problems swallowing.1-4

When the effects of cancer and/or its treatments begin to interfere with your recovery, ability to receive treatment, or performance of daily activities like sleeping, eating and walking, your doctor may recommend cancer rehabilitation. Cancer rehabilitation can help you with these hurdles and your return to your life: to family, your job, and everything else important to you.5-8 That’s why many national and international cancer care organizations recommend rehabilitation as an important part of your overall cancer care plan.9-17

Michael Stubblefield, MD offers exciting insights on cancer rehabilitation as a survivorship care model.
Presented at the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) Policy Roundtable. March, 2020.

Importantly, cancer rehabilitation is not just for when you’re receiving active treatment. Rehabilitation can have benefits before treatment begins by strengthening your body for chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.18 Following cancer treatment, rehabilitation can also help with cancer’s delayed and long-term side effects for years, even decades.19

But, what exactly is cancer rehabilitation? And how does it work?

Cancer rehabilitation is a supportive health care service involving coordinated, multidisciplinary interventions delivered by trained professionals. These efforts are targeted to improve your function and participation in life roles, work, and leisure activities.20

Rehabilitation programs focus on helping you recover faster and more completely. They bring together a variety of health care experts, resources and healing techniques to help you reach your full physical and mental potential during and following cancer treatment.


Cancer Care Team


Who might be on your cancer rehabilitation team? Every patient’s needs are unique, but cancer-trained physical and occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and cognitive rehabilitation experts often play key roles. These therapists know how to identify and mitigate cancer-related challenges that you might be experiencing.

Physical therapists, for instance, will help you recover physical strength and mobility. Occupational therapists can help with your home and work activities like driving, caring for children and typing. Speech-language pathologists assist with speech, swallowing and eating problems. Lastly, cognitive rehabilitation experts can help with mental challenges like trouble concentrating, remembering, and focusing.21

Each person affected by cancer is truly unique so no two cancer rehabilitation treatment plans are the same. If you think ReVital cancer rehabilitation is right for you, we encourage an initial evaluation session early in the treatment process where your current condition, cancer care plan and personal goals are discussed.

As you continue in our care, you’ll schedule recurring appointments with your therapist(s). Together, you’ll work on targeted exercises to help you achieve your personalized goals. Your therapists will encourage you to continue your exercises at home to accelerate progress. Even when it’s challenging, do your best to follow their instructions and attend your appointments.

During your care with ReVital, your therapist(s) will be in touch with your cancer doctor to share information and update them on your progress. They work as a team.

We’re looking forward to being part of your cancer recovery plan—and your brighter, better future.

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  1. Van Leeuwen M, Husson O, Alberti P, et al. Understanding the quality of life (QOL) issues in survivors of cancer: towards the development of an EORTC QOL cancer survivorship questionnaire. Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2018;16:114.
  2. Wu HS, Harden JK. Symptom burden and quality of life in survivorship: a review of the literature. Cancer Nurs. 2015;38:E29-E54.
  3. Stanton AL, Rowland JH, Ganz PA. Life after diagnosis and treatment of cancer in adulthood: contributions from psychosocial oncology research. Am Psychol. 2015;70:159-174.
  4. Pergolotti, M., Deal, A. M., Williams, G. R., Bryant, A. L., Bensen, J. T., Muss, H. B., & Reeve, B. B. (2017). Activities, function, and health-related quality of life (HRQOL) of older adults with cancer. J Geriatr Oncol, 8(4), 249-254. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28285980. doi:10.1016/j.jgo.2017.02.009
  5. Hunter, E. G. G., R. W.; Arbesman, M.; D'Amico, M. (2017). Systematic Review of Occupational Therapy and Adult Cancer Rehabilitation: Part 1. Impact of Physical Activity and Symptom Management Interventions. Am J Occup Ther, 71(2), 7102100030p7102100031-7102100030p7102100011. doi:10.5014/ajot.2017.023564
  6. Hunter, E. G., Gibson, R. W., Arbesman, M., & D'Amico, M. (2017). Systematic Review of Occupational Therapy and Adult Cancer Rehabilitation: Part 2. Impact of Multidisciplinary Rehabilitation and Psychosocial, Sexuality, and Return-to-Work Interventions. Am J Occup Ther, 71(2), 7102100040p7102100041-7102100040p7102100048.
  7. Pergolotti, M., Deal, A. M., Williams, G. R., Bryant, A. L., McCarthy, L., Nyrop, K. A., . . . Muss, H. B. (2019). Older Adults with Cancer: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Occupational and Physical Therapy. J Am Geriatr Soc, 67(5), 953-960. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jgs.15930. doi:10.1111/jgs.15930
  8. Silver, J. K., Baima, J., & Mayer, R. S. (2013). Impairment-driven cancer rehabilitation: An essential component of quality care and survivorship. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 63(5), 295-317. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.3322/caac.21186. doi:10.3322/caac.21186
  9. Medicine, I. o. (2013). Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  10. Sanft, T., Denlinger, C. S., Armenian, S., Baker, et al. NCCN Guidelines Insights: Survivorship, Version 2.2019, 2019;17:7, 784-794.
  11. American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer. Cancer Program Standards: Ensuring Patient‐Centered Care. 2016.
  12. Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC). ACCC Cancer Program Guidelines. ACCC; 2012.
  13. Runowicz CD, Leach CR, Henry NL, et al. American Cancer Society/American Society of Clinical Oncology Breast Cancer Survivorship Care Guideline. J Clin Oncol. 2016;34:611–635.
  14. Nekhlyudov, L., Lacchetti, C., Davis, et al. Head and Neck Cancer Survivorship Care Guideline: American Society of Clinical Oncology Clinical Practice Guideline Endorsement of the American Cancer Society Guideline. J Clin Oncol, 2017;35(14), 1606-1621.
  15. Alfano, C. M., Cheville, A. L., & Mustian, K. (2016). Developing High-Quality Cancer Rehabilitation Programs: A Timely Need. Am Soc Clin Oncol Educ Book, 35, 241-249. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27249704. doi:10.14694/EDBK_156164 10.1200/EDBK_156164
  16. Mohile, S. G., Dale, W., Somerfield, M. R., Schonberg, M. A., Boyd, C. M., Burhenn, P. S., . . . Hurria, A. (2018). Practical Assessment and Management of Vulnerabilities in Older Patients Receiving Chemotherapy: ASCO Guideline for Geriatric Oncology. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 36(22), 2326-2347. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1200/JCO.2018.78.8687. doi:10.1200/JCO.2018.78.8687
  17. Paice JA, Portenoy R, Lacchetti C, et al. Management of chronic pain in survivors of adult cancers: American Society of Clinical Oncology Clinical Practice Guideline. J Clin Oncol. 2016;34:3325–3345..
  18. Santa Mina, D., Clarke, H., Ritvo, P., Leung, Y. W., Matthew, A. G., Katz, J., . . . Alibhai, S. M. (2014). Effect of total-body prehabilitation on postoperative outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Physiotherapy, 100(3), 196-207. doi:10.1016/j.physio.2013.08.008
  19. Lemanne, D., Cassileth, B., & Gubili, J. (2013). The role of physical activity in cancer prevention, treatment, recovery, and survivorship. Oncology (Williston Park), 27(6), 580-585.
  20. Alfano, C. M., & Pergolotti, M. (2018). Next-Generation Cancer Rehabilitation: A Giant Step Forward for Patient Care. Rehabil Nurs, 43(4), 186-194. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29957695. doi:10.1097/rnj.0000000000000174
  21. McNeely, M. L., Dolgoy, N., Onazi, M., & Suderman, K. (2016). The Interdisciplinary Rehabilitation Care Team and the Role of Physical Therapy in Survivor Exercise. Clin J Oncol Nurs, 20(6 Suppl), S8-s16. doi:10.1188/16.Cjon.S2.8-16