Women’s and Men’s Physical Therapists Help Cancer Patients – But Do They Know This?

Posted By: Mary Jane (MJ) Strauhal Interdisciplinary ,

By Mary Jane Strauhal, PT, DPT, BCB-PMD

Mrs. “B” is a 77-year-old woman with a history of urethral gland cancer 23 years ago that was treated with chemotherapy and radiation. She had been screened yearly by an oncologist for colon cancer and has remained cancer-free. However, she has not been receiving yearly gynecologic exams due to her age, and she is not currently sexually active. She self-referred to physical therapy, reporting a gradual onset of bowel and bladder symptoms.

Ms. “R” is a 45-year-old breast cancer survivor who remains on tamoxifen and presents to physical therapy with complaints of dyspareunia and dysuria.

Because advances in cancer intervention have helped people live longer after a cancer diagnosis, more survivors may seek the services of physical therapists specializing in women’s and men’s health to address compromised function and quality of life. As a pelvic and abdominal PT, do you feel prepared for the long-term implications and unique challenges that cancer intervention may have on these survivors’ therapy outcomes?

A thorough knowledge of the impact of radiation fibrosis, vulvovaginal atrophy, and lymphedema could improve the care of the patients described above. They may not be involved in a multidisciplinary approach for cancer, so when is it appropriate to involve other providers?

Bowel, bladder, and sexual function intimately affect the way we live our lives. Whether a patient is referred to an abdomino-pelvic PT by their oncologists before, during, or soon after their treatment, or whether they are seen many years later in their cancer journey, we play an important role in comprehensive cancer care that assures proper treatment of the symptoms and side effects of cancer and cancer treatment. Now we just need to build awareness of this service outside of the PT profession.

October is National Physical Therapy Month. I plan to share my experiences as a PT committed to helping cancer patients, especially with attendees at my upcoming course for the Section on Women’s Health (see details below). I hope you’ll commit to telling your stories not only this month but year-round, so together, we can transform lives.

AUTHOR: Mary Jane Strauhal, PT, DPT, BCB-PMD, works for Providence St. Vincent Rehab Services, where she developed a specialty practice in women’s health and pelvic health and is now the Clinical Advancement Program Lead for Pelvic Health for Providence. She also teaches SOWH continuing education.