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Dr. Albert Van Amburg III, St. Luke's Hospital

Women may benefit from cancer rehabilitation

For heart and orthopedic patients, the word rehabilitation is somewhat expected, as this component of care has traditionally been recommended so patients can regain their sense of being and return to a fulfilling life. Until recently, rehabilitation for cancer patients has been largely overlooked, as programs and services had yet to be established.

Studies suggest the need for cancer rehabilitation has never been greater. According to a recent study in the American Cancer Society's Cancer journal, fatigue plays a major role in the lives of female cancer patients. It found breast cancer patients who have undergone chemotherapy treatment may experience weakness lasting for years. Other cancer patients with different diagnoses are not immune to decreased levels of activity either.

Fatigue can occur for a variety of reasons. The central nervous system may be affected by the cancer or the cancer therapy, medication may affect energy levels and tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a protein made mainly by white blood cells, may reduce muscle function and make the body weaker.

In addition, the LIVESTRONG Survey for Post-Treatment Cancer Survivors, in which the respondents were mostly female, found 98 percent of cancer survivors experienced a variety of physical, emotional and practical concerns. Of those respondents, many reported that these issues were never addressed.

Rehabilitation for cancer patients can address many physical and emotional conditions. In addition to fatigue and emotional distress, other issues such as pain, balance and gait problems, cognitive problems (difficulty processing information), sexual dysfunction, significant weight loss, sleep problems, speech/language disorders, urinary incontinence and other debilitating conditions can be treated through rehabilitation.

Fortunately, there are now options for cancer rehabilitation. Dr. Julie Silver, who is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, a cancer survivor and the author of several books on cancer rehabilitation has developed a certified cancer rehabilitation program that is a nationally-recognized certification that focuses on the physical and emotional healing of cancer survivors. With education and awareness, this new standard of care for cancer patients will help people overcome many of the issues they experience following treatment.

Dr. Albert Van Amburg III is an oncologist at St. Luke's Hospital. To learn more about St. Luke's Cancer Rehabilitation Program, call 314-205-6768.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on March 8, 2012.

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