Cancer rehabilitation specialists create a specific plan for patients that may be altered throughout treatment to better suit current concerns.1 Patients who have limited functional ability may have more difficulty tolerating rigorous treatments2; services may effectively prime patients for upcoming treatments.4 Cognitive remediation, compensatory training, and/or environment modification may be offered to address potential cognitive deficits. Aspects of cognition these therapies may focus on include processing speed, executive function, perceptual functioning, and motor functioning. Techniques that pertain to physical impairments may also be applicable to cognitive deficits as well.3

Making Patients Aware and Involved

Despite the benefits of rehabilitation, very few patients receive these services.4 Many may not be aware of these services or that they can be started prior to as well as during cancer treatment. Awareness of the need for cancer rehabilitation can be achieved by asking patients how well they are tolerating treatment and what their pain levels are, as well as whether they are experiencing physical and mobility deficits or attention and memory challenges in their daily activities.1 Some medical insurance plans cover rehabilitation services, and others are altering their policies to reflect the growing need for these services.7

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Advances in treatment fortunately mean an increase in cancer survival rates; giving patients a lot of living to do! An important goal for cancer survivors to be able to live their lives without limitations or to decrease potential impairments. Learning rehabilitation techniques can enable self-monitoring and self-management, empowering patients to be involved in their overall care. Starting cancer rehabilitation at diagnosis and at the onset of treatment has the potential to improve the lives of the growing population of cancer survivors.1

Lauren Chatalian is the women’s and children’s program coordinator at CancerCare.


1. Kendig T. What is cancer rehab? The Kessler Cancer Rehabilitation Program. Oral presentation at: CancerCare Staff Development Training; Sept 27, 2019; New York, NY.

2. West HJ, Jin JO. Performance status in patients with cancer [JAMA Oncology Patient Page]. JAMA Oncol. 2015;1(7):998.

3. Jean-Pierre P, Johnson-Greene D, Burish TG. Neuropsychological care and rehabilitation of cancer patients with chemobrain: strategies for evaluation and intervention development. Support Care Cancer. 2014;22(8):2251-2260.

4. Alfano CM, Pergolotti M. Next-generation cancer rehabilitation: a giant step forward for patient care. Rehabil Nurs. 2018;43(4):186-194.

5. Silver JK, Baima J, Mayer RS. Impairment-driven cancer rehabilitation: an essential component of quality care and survivorship. CA Cancer J Clin. 2013;63(5):295-317.

6. Commission on Cancer. Optimal Resources for Cancer Care. American College of Surgeons; 2020. 7. Mewes JC, Steuten LM, Ijzerman MJ, van Harten WH. Effectiveness of multidimensional cancer survivor rehabilitation and cost-effectiveness of cancer rehabilitation in general: a systematic review. Oncologist. 2012;17(12):1581-1593.