Occupational therapy practitioners have the knowledge and expertise to modify activities and environments to allow individuals to do the things they want and need to do to maintain quality of life. The role of occupational therapy in oncology is to facilitate and enable an individual patient to achieve maximum functional performance, both physically and psychologically, in everyday living skills regardless of his or her life expectancy.
Cancer and its treatment can cause interruptions in daily routines affecting how individuals perform their self-care, work, leisure, or social activities.
Common side effects of cancer or its treatment include fatigue, pain, weakness, cognitive difficulties, anxiety or depression, and changes in self-esteem or self-image. Occupational therapists address these effects through intervention aimed at restoring function such as developing home exercise programs to improve strength and mobility; modifying activities such as teaching individuals ways to conserve energy during important everyday activities or modifying environments such as the workplace, home, or community.
Occupational therapy intervention methods can remediate, compensate, or adapt a client’s abilities to assist him or her in achieving a maximum level of independence and quality of life. Some examples can include:
- Management of activities of daily living, (ADLs) such as bathing and dressing through adaptations to the activity and environment, and/or through the use of assistive technology.
- Therapeutic exercise and positioning to maintain a functional range of motion, mobility, and strength such as home exercise programs, splinting, bed positioning, etc, to provide support and comfort.
- Cognitive strategies to address memory, concentration, and high-level cognitive skill deficits.
- Fatigue management such as education in and demonstration of energy conservation and work simplification techniques to support health and the ability to participate in meaningful activities.
- Lymphedema management to reduce limb swelling, which can limit range of motion and the ability to move and complete ADLs.
- Lifestyle management such as preventative health, improved fitness, etc. This may include education emphasizing the person’s strengths and positive coping strategies that enable him or her to be in control of lifestyle choices.
- Visual and perceptual deficits.
Occupational therapy services are appropriate for individuals throughout the continuum of cancer care, including those who are newly diagnosed, undergoing treatment, receiving hospice or palliative care, or who are in the survivorship phase of care. Many cancer survivors continue to require occupational therapy services once treatment is completed in order to transition back to their daily activities.
Cancer or the treatments involved in one’s care may lead to changes in physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being regardless of the current stage of disease or medical intervention. Occupational therapy practitioners use a collaborative, client-centered approach that supports each individual in shaping the therapeutic intervention and identifying meaningful goals.