Americans routinely undergo rehab for joint replacements, heart attacks, and sports injuries under the watchful eyes of specialized health providers and insurers. But cancer recovery is unique; cancer patients generally have to identify problems and seek help on their own. Studies suggest that 60 to 90 percent of cancer survivors have side effects from surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy that would typically improve with coordinated rehab therapy, yet less than 10 percent of them are receiving such care.
Enter Dr. Julie Silver, a Harvard physician, mom, and breast cancer survivor who is moving the dial on cancer care. “Because cancer is diagnosed on screening tests, patients can feel really good at the beginning of treatment and awful at the end. Some can’t care for their kids or drive to work due to residual fatigue. Others have pain or nutritional issues. Most need coordinated, professional help to transition from cancer patient to cancer survivor.”
Using cardiac rehabilitation programs as a model, Silver and her colleagues at Oncology Rehab Partners launched the STAR (Survivorship Training and Rehab) Program in 2009. At participating institutions (about 40 nationwide), doctors who specialize in oncology and rehabilitation evaluate patients for fatigue, anemia, loss of appetite, and other problems commonly caused by cancer therapy. Then they can prescribe evidence-based therapy and treatment for optimum recovery.
“Of course it’s important to work toward a cure for cancer, but not at the expense of forgetting about the disability that may be associated with treatment. We can’t keep people out of the storm, but we can give them an umbrella to protect them through it,” says Silver. For more about cancer rehabilitation and to find a STAR Program nearby, go to oncologyrehabpartners.com