Caucasian senior man and woman on the beach with text "Physical Therapy for Cancer Rehab" and a purple ribbon

According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is the second leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S., behind heart disease. A cancer diagnosis can change everything and affects everyone in the family. After the diagnosis, things start to move fast regarding decisions for treatment and care. Cancer is typically treated through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of all these. Physical therapy is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about cancer recovery, but it is becoming an important part of cancer rehabilitation.

Research shows that physical therapy during and after cancer treatment can help speed recovery, reduce fatigue, restore strength, and lower the risk of complications. Exercise can play many roles for the cancer survivor. It has been shown to improve cardiovascular, metabolic, immune functions, reduce health costs, and improve quality of life. Despite the many benefits of physical therapy, it is often underutilized in the oncology setting.

Physical therapists work with patients to:

• Increase mobility / range of motion
• Enhance strength and endurance
• Improve the ability to perform daily living activities
• Manage fatigue, pain, and peripheral neuropathy
• Manage lymphedema
• Pre/post radiation rehab

The ultimate goal of cancer rehabilitation is to improve the well-being and long-term function for the cancer patient. Exercise combined with physical therapy can be part of overall cancer treatment plans. By learning how to care for the body – even long after the cancer treatment is over.

Each individual is unique in his or her response to illness, treatment, and overall experience when fighting cancer.


Physical Activity and the Cancer Patient. Retrieved 2020.08.21

Rizzo A. The Role of Exercise and Rehabilitation in the Cancer Care Plan. J Adv Pract Oncol. 2016;7(3):339-342. doi:10.6004/jadpro.2016.7.3.20

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