Physical Therapy for Cancer Survivors. Ask the Expert.

weightsI frequently suggest folks talk to their doctors about physical therapy, whether they are recovering from injury or experiencing cording in the underarm area or swelling post-cancer treatment (lymphedema).  I interviewed Elizabeth Camp, a Physical Therapist at Carle to find out more about the benefits of physical therapy for cancer survivors. 

What is the most common reason cancer survivors seek out physical therapy?
There are many reasons that a cancer survivor might seek out therapy.

1) Some patients have a new onset of swelling in the arm , leg or trunk either immediately following treatment which doesn’t resolve or even years into survivorship. New presentations of edema that occurs after an extended time out from surgery or radiation should be assessed by the MD before referral for CDT intervention. (Note from Karyn: CDT is Complete Decongestive Therapy)

2) Patients may benefit from education regarding stage 0 lymphedema, prevention tactics, fitting of prophylactic compression to wear during high risk activities such as travel and heavy exercise, and skin care/protection against infection. Cellulitis is a frequent cause of lymphedema onset in patients that have completed treatment and did not have lymphedema initially. (note from Karyn: lymphedema ranges from stage 0 or no visible swelling to stage 3 or severe swelling)

3) Some patients have issues with limited shoulder mobility following surgery/radiation which can be addressed.

4) Limitations in shoulder/elbow mobility that is accompanied by “tightness” extending down the arm into the elbow or wrist can be an indication of axillary web syndrome (AWS). AWS most often is present during treatment or immediately following surgery/radiation interventions.

5) Various chemotherapy agents can impact the patients general health resulting in decreased strength, endurance, and can result in cardio-pulmonary limitations. Patients may benefit from therapy to direct a supervised rehabilitation program as they try to resume their former activity level.

What are the benefits of physical therapy for cancer survivors?

Physical/Occupational therapy can be of benefit for cancer survivors in many ways.
1) Education provision regarding lymphedema, expected prognosis, options for treatment
2) Supervised exercise programming to improve function and activity tolerance
3) Preventative or maintenance compression garment measurement and fitting
4) Instruction in home manual lymph drainage/exercise/compression/skin care program to prevent progression of lymphedema.

You teach lymph drainage massage to breast cancer survivors. How important is this in preventing the development of lymphedema post cancer treatment?

Manual lymph drainage is a technique that helps to increase lymph drainage from the involved region either through remaining pathways or by re-routing the drainage through another regional node system. This drainage is very important to the prevention of lymphedema onset. Lymphedema occurs when the high protein fluid is allowed to accumulate in the tissue resulting in progression of the edema from Stage 0 to Stage 1 or even Stage 2.

What do you love about the community here?
I enjoy the “small town” feel of C-U while still having the amenities of a much larger community.

What’s your favorite local lunch place?

I have a number of local lunch places that I enjoy. The Black Dog has wonderful barbecue and I have a favorite salad at Atties. It always surprises me the number and variety of good restaurants that are available in the downtown area of Champaign Urbana.

A PT/OT prescription is required before you can be scheduled for treatment. Prescriptions can be faxed to 217- 383-3567.

Elizabeth Camp, PT-MHS, CWS, CLT-LANA
Elizabeth Camp, PT-MHS, CWS, CLT-LANA

Elizabeth has been a practicing physical therapist for 30+ years. She has been a certified wound specialist through the American Board of Wound Management for 11 years. She is currently on staff at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, IL providing lymphedema treatment for both primary and secondary lymphedema patients.

Elizabeth provides lymphedema treatment to patients both during and following cancer treatment. She provides care to patients with many different types of cancer related lymphedema including not only breast and gynecologic cancers but also head and neck as well as soft tissue cancers. Additionally she works with the Carle Wound Healing Center providing lymphedema intervention and adjunctive therapies to patients with chronic wounds and/or lymphedema.

Elizabeth has provided professional continuing education for a number of years. She developed and teaches the current “ Wound Care for Lymphedema “course through Klose Training which educates practicing lymphedema therapists how to effectively address wounds associated with lymphedema. She has presented at the Carle- Skin Care Symposium in 2006, 2010 and 2015. She has provided education to multiple support groups/gatherings for cancer survivors in the CU community.