Cancer Rehabilitation Program Proactively Prepares Patients for Successful Treatment



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Cancer Rehabilitation Program Proactively Prepares Patients for Successful Treatment


By Paul J. Watkins



Caring for cancer patients is a multifaceted effort that calls upon the skills and experiences of many healthcare professionals in a wide range of specialties. One of those specialties – a relatively new one – is cancer rehabilitation.

“Cancer rehabilitation is a subspecialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation, and cancer rehabilitation applies these same foundational rehabilitation principles to a cancer population,” explains Brian Fricke, MD, a board-certified physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“When we see patients, our focus is on their overall quality of life and, especially, their function. We address issues related to the cancer itself or the cancer treatments, such as long-term aftereffects or symptoms. We often partner with physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists to deliver a comprehensive rehabilitation model for all of our patients. Our role in cancer rehabilitation is complementary to those services provided by radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, and surgeons.”

Dr. Fricke emphasizes that the purpose of cancer rehabilitation goes beyond just addressing the side effects of cancer treatments. It also focuses on proactively preparing the patient for his or her cancer battle.

“For example, I’ll see patients early on – shortly after their initial diagnosis – for something called ‘prehabilitation.’ We anticipate that the patient is going to undergo some major chemotherapy, surgery, or stem cell transplantation, and those modalities are going to result in some degree of functional insult to the patient.

“In prehabilitation, we work on getting the patient on a multimodal program with physical activity, aerobic exercise, resistance training, nutritional guidance, behavioral health, and mood and stress management. We also provide smoking cessation counseling for those who need it. This multifaceted approach fortifies the patient to absorb that functional insult with a minimal amount of mental, physical, and emotional consequence, and it aids in their long-term recovery.”

Any patient with a cancer diagnosis is a candidate for the cancer rehabilitation program, informs Dr. Fricke. He adds that the cancer rehabilitation staff see patients anywhere along the cancer treatment spectrum, from time of diagnosis all the way to end-of-life care.

Physical or cognitive deficits can be a direct result of a patient’s cancer or a byproduct of the treatment. Dr. Fricke says one of the most common misconceptions among cancer patients is that they just have to accept those deficits as the price of having and defeating their cancer.

“That’s not necessarily true,” he states. “When we see patients in rehabilitation, we tell them that there may be ways we can maintain or even improve their mobility, their independence with activities of daily living and their range of motion, as well as address deconditioning or fatigue and any instances of pain or neuropathy. Once we’ve identified the patient’s issues, we develop a treatment plan for how we’re going to tackle them, and we move forward.”



Please call (210) 450-1000 to make an appointment at Mays Cancer Center. Learn more about cancer rehabilitation at

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