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Breast Cancer and Physical Therapy

| Date Posted: 10/6/2016


Ginny Barbour, PT, MPT


Current United States breast cancer statistics state that about 1-in-8 U.S. women (about 12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime.

In 2016, an estimated 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the US, along with 61,000 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. It is estimated that in 2016, there will be more than 2.8 million women with a history of breast cancer in the U.S. This includes women currently being treated and women who have finished treatment.

With current innovations in treatment and prevention, breast cancer incidence rates in the US have been dropping since the year 2000 and continue to drop each year. Since breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women, next to skin cancer, its treatment continues to be on the forefront of the healthcare industry.

Typically, treatments for breast cancer can include chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, however an integrated multidisciplinary approach to care, including rehabilitation (physical and occupational therapy), can help identify an individual patients needs in order to maximize optimal recovery and return to full function.

Studies show that exercise in general increases the speed of recovery, decreases fatigue and reduces pain while increasing ones range of motion and strength. Skilled physical therapists are essential in assisting a person in maintaining/gaining strength, flexibility, endurance and maximizing function. A physical therapist can provide education on arm exercises that will stretch and strengthen the muscles of the chest, back, shoulders and arms. This assists in preventing stiffness and decreasing pain. Increased flexibility can improve a patient’s posture, thus decreasing pain. A physical therapist will work to develop an individualized exercise program with progressions that are specific to each patient and their needs at all stages of their recovery or even years after their recovery from breast cancer.

Physical therapists also work to assist with the management of scarring after surgical procedures as well as preventing nerve irritation and tension, which can lead to arm pain, sensation changes and even neck pain if left untreated.

As a part of the treatment/recovery team, the physical/occupational therapist will monitor the patient’s progression and address any issues that arise including Lymphedema. Lymphedema is a post-surgery complication that causes swelling in one of the arms, due to blockage of lymph passages and the body's inability to drain fluid from the surrounding tissues. This can occur after the removal of lymph nodes and treatments that interrupt the normal flow of the lymphatic system.

FirstHealth provides an environment of healthcare providers that work together as a team to optimize a patient's healing and recovery. Health team members communicate routinely in order to provide all the necessary aspects of care for each individual patient. FirstHealth Rehab offers physical therapy services for a variety of diagnoses including those dealing with breast cancer.


For more information about our services, call (800) 213-3284 or click here.



Ginny Barbour, PT, MPT, is physical therapist with FirstHealth Rehab. Barbour received her B.S. degree in clinical laboratory science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her master’s degree in physical therapy from Elon University. She has been employed with FirstHealth employee since 2001 and resides in Chatham County.


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