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CA Cancer J Clin. 2013 Sep;63(5):295-317. doi: 10.3322/caac.21186. Epub 2013 Jul 15.

Impairment-driven cancer rehabilitation: an essential component of quality care and survivorship.

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Associate Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.


Adult cancer survivors suffer an extremely diverse and complex set of impairments, affecting virtually every organ system. Both physical and psychological impairments may contribute to a decreased health-related quality of life and should be identified throughout the care continuum. Recent evidence suggests that more cancer survivors have a reduced health-related quality of life as a result of physical impairments than due to psychological ones. Research has also demonstrated that the majority of cancer survivors will have significant impairments and that these often go undetected and/or untreated, and consequently may result in disability. Furthermore, physical disability is a leading cause of distress in this population. The scientific literature has shown that rehabilitation improves pain, function, and quality of life in cancer survivors. In fact, rehabilitation efforts can ameliorate physical (including cognitive) impairments at every stage along the course of treatment. This includes prehabilitation before cancer treatment commences and multimodal interdisciplinary rehabilitation during and after acute cancer treatment. Rehabilitation appears to be cost-effective and may reduce both direct and indirect health care costs, thereby reducing the enormous financial burden of cancer. Therefore, it is critical that survivors are screened for both psychological and physical impairments and then referred appropriately to trained rehabilitation health care professionals. This review suggests an impairment-driven cancer rehabilitation model that includes screening and treating impairments all along the care continuum in order to minimize disability and maximize quality of life.


cancer rehabilitation; disability; impairment; impairment-driven; long-term effects; occupational therapy; physiatry; physical therapy; prehabilitation; side effects; speech therapy; survivorship

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