Broadly speaking, the role of the physical therapist in breast cancer can be divided into two parts: input immediately after surgery, and long term care input.
1. Immediately after surgery
Breast cancer surgery not only involves removal of the affected breast tissue, but can also include the nearby lymph nodes and some blood vessels as well.
Exercise facilitates healing and helps restore function in the affected side. As soon as pain subsides, the physical therapist can help increase range of motion and encourage muscle contractions. Physical therapists will prescribe and teach certain stretching and strengthening exercises for surrounding joints like the shoulder and elbow to maintain mobility and muscle function.
Breathing exercises allow for increased expansion of lungs and movements of joints in and around the rib cage. Postural precautions (not sleeping on the side of the operation for a few days for example) are also provided by the physical therapist.
The prevention of swelling in the lymph nodes (lymphedema) reduces levels of fatigue, helping patients to remain active.
2. Long term treatment
A physical therapist can help patients regain confidence, improve lung capacity, move without pain, remain physically active and live happy, healthy and productive lives. This is achieved using a combination of exercise therapy, manual techniques and home exercise programs.
Patients may also be asked to participate in group exercise activities involving othe cancer patients. A social environment is a good way to promote rehabilitation and allow the patient to recover in a relaxed and comfortable environment.