How does rehabilitation after breast cancer surgery help?

2 March, 2020

In recent years there has been progress in the knowledge of cancer resulting in new treatments. The first point to take into account when we talk about rehabilitation after breast cancer is that this process is part of the treatment. Rehabilitation and physiotherapy are aimed at improving the quality of life of the patient treated for breast cancer. Recovering the maximum possible level of functionality and relieving pain are the main objectives in physical rehabilitation. Side effects such as limited mobility, stiffness, sensory disturbances, pain, etc., are frequent in the period following breast surgery or the therapies applied.

Exercises help restore movement

The different treatments for breast cancer have physical conditions that must be treated. Exercises are important to reduce the side effects of an operation to preserve flexibility and regain arm and shoulder movement and strengthen the affected area. The patient should follow the guidelines of the medical team to perform the personalized exercise plan. This multidisciplinary team will include a rehabilitation specialist and a physical therapist who will treat the affected injuries to regain physical skills, help restore movement, work on improving physical strength, or treat types of pain that are a result of the cancer and therapies.

Julia, affected by breast cancer, gives us her testimony

With the exception of non-melanoma skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common malignant tumor among women worldwide. It is estimated that the lifetime risk of breast cancer is approximately 1 in 8 women.

When a person is diagnosed with breast cancer there are many doubts and fears. This is what Julia tells us, who knows it first-hand since she faced a breast tumor.

“About a year ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy without axillary emptying with placement of an expander”. Julia offers us her testimony telling us how she lived the whole process, from the diagnosis to her recovery.

“The surgery went very well and there were no complications. After 7 days in the hospital they sent me home without any indication for physical therapy and with the following instructions: not to move my arm, not to lift any weight and not to drive for a month”. These guidelines led Julia to a paralysis of the arm to the point that, during that period, she could not even brush her teeth with the affected arm. She explains it this way: “That I could hardly move my arm generated a continuous numbness in it that was very unpleasant, not to mention the discomfort when sleeping…”.

“After I got over a mastectomy, the exercises helped me regain the mobility of my arm” 

Feeling so limited, she decided to look for information on post-mastectomy rehabilitation and found some breast cancer rehabilitation guidelines. Julia tells us how she managed to regain her mobility: “I dedicated myself to the exercises, but with many doubts and some fear of doing them badly in case the situation got worse. But with practice I saw that they helped me regain the mobility of my arm, especially lifting it over my shoulder or stretching it up completely. This last movement took me almost 6 months to be able to do it well and it still causes me discomfort today”.

Although Julia’s case tells us about overcoming and how she managed to regain mobility thanks to her will power, her testimony ends with a disturbing fact: “I was never called for a control visit to evaluate my joint range and functional capacity or whether I had moved my arm correctly again”.

The benefits of physical therapy for treating the after-effects of cancer

Rehabilitation aims to improve the patient’s outcome and at DyCare we can do our part for this segment, where special attention has to be paid to the movement the patient makes, in order not to compromise the surgery

From the medical community we are receiving special interest in introducing ReHub into the breast cancer rehabilitation program, as the “biofeedback” the patient receives in real time during the execution of the exercises increases their empowerment and their adherence to the rehabilitation process.

As a conclusion, we can list some advantages that a rehabilitation process brings and see that physiotherapy greatly benefits women with breast cancer by helping to:

  • regaining mobility
  • Improve breathing
  • Treating fibrosis
  • Combating lymphedema of the extremities
  • Taking care of scars
  • Calm or eliminate pain
  • Gaining elasticity

These and other benefits can prevent and treat the after-effects of cancer by achieving greater adherence to the patient’s treatment and improving her quality of life.