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January 8, 2024 | 3 minute read

Occupational Therapists Help with Cancer Care

Key Takeaways:

  • Occupational therapists (OTs) are part of the cancer care team, along with oncologists, nurses and dietitians.
  • OTs play an important role in supporting individuals as they adapt to post-treatment quality of life and can provide emotional support and coping strategies.
  • After treatment, you may need to slightly adjust the things that you do each day. Occupational therapists can help you find the best ways to bathe, eat, cook, get dressed and work while conserving energy and feeling your best.

Cancer care involves a team approach, and people undergoing treatment may have an opportunity to work with oncologists, nurses, dietitians and a range of therapists.

One important team member is the occupational therapist (OT), who can play a crucial role in supporting individuals as they adapt to cancer treatment and improve post-treatment quality of life.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Some health issues pose barriers to the normal ways we carry out everyday tasks. Occupational therapists help people adapt and learn new ways of doing things to make life easier. They can offer techniques, exercises, equipment and tools to help.

For example, if you had breast cancer surgery and have pain when moving your arms, an OT can show you better ways to dress your upper body or shampoo your hair. They can suggest activities and exercises to improve range of motion and strengthen muscles while you heal.

Why Should I Work With An Occupational Therapist?

Here are some ways in which OTs can help and the tools they may provide:

  1. Ideas to help with daily tasks: After treatment, you may need to slightly adjust the things that you do each day, such as bathing, eating and getting dressed. You may also need workarounds for shopping, cooking, pet care and household maintenance. OTs work with you to find strategies to alter how you carry out these activities or will help you build new skills.
  1. Energy conservation techniques: Cancer treatments can cause fatigue and decreased energy. OTs teach energy conservation strategies to help manage daily activities effectively. They can assist with pacing, using proper body mechanics and prioritizing tasks to prevent excessive fatigue.
  1. Adaptive equipment and assistive devices: Your OT can evaluate your need for adaptive tools to compensate for any physical limitation you develop due to treatment. The right tools can help you perform daily activities more easily. Examples may include “reachers” (bars with grip ends to help you reach things up high), dressing aids, shower chairs and modified eating utensils.
  2. Cognitive strategies: “Chemo brain” is real. Chemotherapy or radiation can sometimes affect memory, attention and problem-solving skills. OTs can provide cognitive rehabilitation interventions to improve cognitive functioning and develop compensatory strategies.
  3. Work rehabilitation: Are you concerned about returning to work after treatment? OTs can provide guidance on modifying job tasks, recommending workplace accommodations and developing strategies to manage work-related challenges.
  1. Emotional support and coping strategies: Cancer treatment can be emotionally overwhelming.

OTs teach stress management techniques and provide coping strategies to enhance emotional well-being. They can help you find support groups or recommend appropriate community resources.

One barrier to receiving OT is simply not knowing that these services exist.

Now that you know how beneficial occupational therapy can be and why it’s helpful, ask your cancer care team for more information about how you can find an OT to work with.

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