Five Things Friday – Rehabilitation After Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer and Rehabilitation

Breast cancer patients and survivors want their lives back! Whether you are newly diagnosed, in treatment, or years into your survivorship, rehabilitation services can help you get back some or all the functionality you may have lost.

Cancer rehabilitation services include health care experts, resources, and healing techniques to help you recover physically and emotionally. Your health care team can help you coordinate care.

Here are five things to consider regarding your rehabilitation:

1. Signs that You may Need Rehabilitation Services

Breast cancer and treatment can cause pain, fatigue, muscle weakness, and emotional trauma. Most cancer survivors need rehabilitation services to help improve strength and stamina.

These signs may indicate you need rehabilitation services:

  • Feeling weak and tired.
  • Having difficulty talking or swallowing.
  • Experiencing unexplained pain or muscular problems
  • Having difficulty recovering from treatment and getting back to normal.
  • Feeling uncertain about exercising.
  • Having memory issues or difficulty concentrating.

Rehabilitation may improve your health and ability to function more quickly and to a greater degree. There are many resources and therapies available to you.

2. Finding the Right Rehabilitation Services

Questions to Ask Yourself:
  • What daily tasks or recreational activities are you no longer able to do since your diagnosis?
  • Has your diet and appetite changed?
  • How has your activity level or exercise regimen changed?
  • How has your cancer and treatment affected your ability to work?
  • How is pain affecting your ability to function or sleep?
  • Do you need to build up your strength and stamina?
  • Are you tired? Is it affecting your ability to function?
  • Are you sad, worried, anxious, or depressed?
  • Does your health insurance cover rehabilitation services?

3. Who Provides Rehabilitation Services?

Rehabilitation services prescribed by your oncologist or any medical or osteopathic doctor may include:

  • Psychological Counseling and Stress Management
  • Pain Management
  • Integrative Medicine – Mind, Body & Spirit
  • Nutrition Counseling
  • Clothing and Personal Image Options

When talking to your doctor, consider these specialized areas and how they may be able to help you:

Occupational Therapy – Helps you resume your daily activities, such as bathing, dressing and returning to work. It can help

Occupational Therapy

improve functionality, strength, coordination, and range of motion. Therapists can also treat pain, and some are certified in lymphedema therapy.

Physical Therapy – Helps you recover strength, flexibility, endurance, and mobility. May treat pain, and possibly manage conditions such as lymphedema.

Speech Therapy – Focuses on problems with language comprehension or expression, as well as swallowing issues.

Vocational Rehabilitation – Evaluates whether and how you can return to work. They can prescribe special equipment and, if necessary, suggest a change of occupation. Vocational retraining may be offered.

Mental Health Counseling – Most rehab settings will offer mental health counseling. This might include a psychiatric consultation or evaluation by a psychologist or clinical social worker. These specialists can  help people adjust to a “new normal.”

Dietary Counseling – A registered dietician helps you plan a suitable diet during treatment and/or rehabilitation. They can offer weight management guidance and nutritional advice for  improving energy.

4. How Long Will I Need Rehabilitation Services?

A rehabilitation plan may enhance the quality of life at any time during your breast cancer journey – during treatment or years later.

5. What will Rehabilitation Cost?

Physical, occupational and other types of therapy are covered by most insurers. Ask your case manager or social worker if your needs are covered.

Here is a chart of some conditions and types of therapists you should ask for:

Breast Cancer Rehabilitation and Possible Insurance Coverage


Type of Therapist

Impaired ability to participate in normal daily activities

  • Occupational
  • Vocational
  • Dietician
  • Mental Health

Cancer-related fatigue

  • Occupational
  • Dietician
  • Mental Health

Neuropathy – Feeling off balance. Falling.

  • Occupational
  • Physical

Cognitive Decline – “chemo brain.” Difficulty with memory, attention, communication, speech.

  • Occupational
  • Speech
  • Mental Health

Lack of strength in arms or shoulders

  • Occupational
  • Physical

Muscle Weakness

  • Occupational
  • Physical


  • Occupational
  • Physical

Lymphedema – Excess fluid caused by surgery or radiation.

  • Occupational
  • Physical

Joint pain/Muscle aches

  • Occupational
  • Physical

If you don’t have health insurance, talk to your social worker or patient financial counselor at the hospital or cancer center. There are programs that may help you get coverage or pay for treatment. Albie Aware can help direct you to the rehabilitation you need.


National Institute of Health


Dignity Health

UT Southwestern Medical Center

UC SanDiego Health

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