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The Role of Physiotherapy in Cancer Management Part 1

According to the Cancer Council as of 2021, 1 in 2 Australian’s will be diagnosed with some form of cancer by the age of 85 and this rate is only set to increase. Cancer is a devastating diagnosis which has psychological, physical and emotional effects on both the individual and their community. The way in which cancer is managed and treated is constantly improving with advancements in technology and understanding of the disease process. Although physiotherapy cannot treat the disease itself, physiotherapy can play a role in the management of symptoms and side effects to improve quality of life and overall function. In this two part blog I am going to discuss Cancer, the common treatments for Cancer and some of the ways Physiotherapy can aid in the management.

What is Cancer?

Simplified, cancer is a disease process which starts with the mutation of a segment of DNA within a single cell within the body. These mutations can occur as a result of environmental or genetic factors. The cell which is carrying the mutation then begins to multiply at a rapid rate, a number of specific components of an ordinary cell are switched off in a cancerous cell, allowing them to grow at an uncontrolled rate. As they grow they create a mass known as a tumor. These tumors invade organs, feed off the bodies nutrients and influence normal body functions, leading to significant illness and death.

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

The signs and symptoms of cancer can vary depending on the type. Some of the more common symptoms that are present in a number of different cancers can include:

  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Fatigue.
  • Unexplained or new lumps.
  • Wounds that will not heal.
  • Persistent cough or coughing up blood.
  • Unusual or unexplained pain.

Treatments and Side Effects

There are a number of treatments available to those who are diagnosed with cancer, depending on the type, stage and time of diagnosis. Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, immunotherapy and hormonal therapies are all ways in which cancer is treated and this constantly evolving due to advancements in technology. Some of the side effects of treatment include:

  • Cancer related fatigue.
  • Pain
  • Neuropathy
  • Lymphoedema
  • Scars and musculoskeletal dysfunction from surgery.

How can Physiotherapy help?

There are many ways in which Physiotherapy can assist in the management of side effects, pain and dysfunction:

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation for cancers which effect the respiratory system.
  • Pain management.
  • Musculoskeletal management for secondary issues which arise as a result of treatment or the cancer itself.
  • Exercise management for fatigue and pain.
  • Lymphoedema management.
  • Women’s and men’s health for urological and reproductive cancers.

In part two we will explore more specifically the way physiotherapy can help those living with cancer.


  1. Cancer Council 2021,
Emillie Kinkella

Emillie joined the Bend + Mend team after a move east to Sydney from Bunbury, Western Australia. Emillie graduated from Curtin University with a Bachelor of Science (Physiotherapy) in 2017 and since graduation has had experience in both the public and private settings working in musculoskeletal physiotherapy. She has undergone post graduate training in dry needling, tendinopathy management, lower back pain disorders and Clinical Pilates. Emillie grew up in a soccer orientated family and enjoys treating soccer related injuries sustained both on and off the field, along with lower back pain disorders and tendinopathies. Outside of work Emillie enjoys cooking up a storm and exploring the sights of beautiful Sydney.

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