Pain needs to be better treated in cancer survivors

After people have a heart attack, stroke or joint replacement, rehab is a routine part of their recovery plan. Cancer survivors, too, can have significant musculoskeletal issues during and after the acute illness. Yet cancer rehab programs are few and far between. Why is that?

For no good reason, rehab has not yet made it to the culture of survivorship. It’s time to do something about this.

Cure Magazine published an important article by physician-survivor Julie Silver in the online CURExtra Winter issue. “The goals [of cancer rehab] are the same–help someone function at the highest possible level by building up their strength and stamina, reducing pain and fatigue, improving problems with balance, gait swallowing, joint range of motion and a host of other problems.”

Dr. Silver points out a key issue for Healthy Survivors: “[I]t’s not fair to survivors to tell them to accept a new normal when there is proven medical care that can help.”

Too many patients — not just cancer survivors – receive high-tech interventions that help the original problem, but then they suffer with unaddressed residual pain or weakness. Accepting your “new normal” is counter to Healthy Survivorship unless all modes of therapy that might help have been tried. Many times it takes a combination of low-tech therapies, including rehab services.

Until rehab becomes a routine component of comprehensive cancer care, Healthy Survivors can contribute to their recovery by requesting a consult with a rehab expert experienced in the care of cancer patients.

Wendy S. Harpham is an internal medicine physician who blogs at Dr. Wendy Harpham on Health Survivorship and is the author of Only 10 Seconds to Care: Help and Hope for Busy Clinicians.

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