Recent Trends in Rehabilitation for Cancer Patients

Article information

Ann Rehabil Med. 2022;46(3):111-113
Publication date (electronic) : 2022 June 30
doi :
Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Seoul National University Hospital, Seoul, Korea
Corresponding author: Kwan-Sik Seo, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Seoul National University Hospital, 101 Daehak-Ro, Jongno-Gu, Seoul 03080, Korea. Tel: +82-2-2072-2619, Fax: +82-2-743-7473, E-mail:
Received 2022 June 15; Accepted 2022 June 16.

Advances in early diagnosis and treatment have attributed to the prolonged lifespan of cancer patients [1]. Cancer diagnoses have increased to such an extent that it has been classified as a chronic disease and is considered a possible diagnosis within an individual’s lifespan [2]. Even so, cancer is still considered a rare and catastrophic disease [3]. For this reason, the physical complications caused by cancer and cancer treatments remain a relevant field of study [1].

The fundamental goal of rehabilitation is to minimize disability and prolonged effects caused by various diseases; the ultimate goal is improved quality of life and complete recovery of physical function [4-6]. This definition is in accordance with the goals for recovery from physical complications caused by cancer. After a cancer diagnosis, the treatment process is usually pre-determined, and physical problems can often be predicted; this makes cancer treatment planning different from other diseases [7]. Therefore, cancer rehabilitation is a category on its own and allows specialized targeted approaches.

Problems with the physical functions of cancer patients are very diverse because types of cancer and the treatment methods applied to each patient are different. For example, lymphedema may appear in patients with breast, gynecologic, and urinary cancers; respiratory complications in patients with lung cancer; and cachexia in patients with pancreatic cancer [8-12]. More effective treatment methods are continuously being developed. The patient’s physical function will also change throughout the course of treatment and recovery, and the goals and methods of rehabilitation should change accordingly. Therefore, cancer rehabilitation specialists cannot use a universal treatment plan. Treatment plans for common and predicted problems that occur regularly in cancer patients, as well as specialized plans that can be adapted for each clinical situation, have to be implemented.

As cancer rehabilitation takes its place, recent trends are classified into four categories. The first relates to specific issues unique to each case. Initially, patient management was limited to reporting the clinical symptoms and treatment effects. However, recent animal studies, newly developed mechanisms, and the validation of new treatments have brought about a change. For example, studies on lymphedema have mostly been focusing on the therapeutic effects, such as physical therapy; however, studies on lymphangiogenesis and other methods for treating edema are being actively conducted through animal experiments [13-18].

The second trend is the expansion of the scope of rehabilitation according to the type of cancer. New rehabilitation methods are being investigated and applied in clinical practice. For example, adapting respiratory rehabilitation for patients with lung cancer [19,20]. In addition, the focus of rehabilitation during certain treatment phases is changing [21]. Rehabilitation programs focus on a specific period within the treatment schedule, such as hematopoietic stem cell transplantation in patients with hematological cancer or rehabilitation in patients with advanced cancer [1,22-24].

The third trend involves rehabilitation with the goal of returning to society. In particular, the focus is on the care of cancer patients to take place in nearby hospitals or at home. This form of rehabilitation is an extension of hospice care for end-of-life patients [25-27].

Finally, prehabilitation, which is also common in other fields, is an important factor in cancer rehabilitation. Very often, complications in physical function in cancer patients can be predicted. Preoperative rehabilitation and continuous education before and during treatment can aid in preventing these problems [28-30]. Prehabilitation is an emerging field that provides various rehabilitation services to patients and has proven successful.

The same trends were used in the establishment of physical medicine. There are opportunities for various developments and expansions within the cancer rehabilitation field that can allow patients additional services and treatments. With the development of social media, patients have easy access to information on cancer rehabilitation programs. Considering the progression in cancer treatments and the rapidly changing cancer rehabilitation approaches, we can be sure that the field of cancer rehabilitation will keep evolving.


No potential conflict of interest relevant to this article was reported.


This work was supported by the Korea Medical Device Development Fund, a grant funded by the Korean governments (the Ministry of Science and ICT, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, the Ministry of Health & Welfare, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety) (Project No. 9991006938, KMDF_PR_20200901_0273).


1. Mayer RS, Engle J. Rehabilitation of individuals with cancer. Ann Rehabil Med 2022;46:60–70.
2. Pituskin E, Joy AA, Fairchild A. Advanced cancer as a chronic disease: introduction. Semin Oncol Nurs 2021;37:151176.
3. Doshmangir L, Hasanpoor E, Abou Jaoude GJ, Eshtiagh B, Haghparast-Bidgoli H. Incidence of catastrophic health expenditure and its determinants in cancer patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Appl Health Econ Health Policy 2021;19:839–55.
4. Han EY, Chun MH, Kim BR, Kim HJ. Functional Improvement after 4-week rehabilitation therapy and effects of attention deficit in brain tumor patients: comparison with subacute stroke patients. Ann Rehabil Med 2015;39:560–9.
5. Kim SY, Kim TU, Lee SJ, Hyun JK. Prognosis for patients with traumatic cervical spinal cord injury combined with cervical radiculopathy. Ann Rehabil Med 2014;38:443–9.
6. Rose A, Rosewilliam S, Soundy A. Shared decision making within goal setting in rehabilitation settings: a systematic review. Patient Educ Couns 2017;100:65–75.
7. Cheville AL, McLaughlin SA, Haddad TC, Lyons KD, Newman R, Ruddy KJ. integrated rehabilitation for breast cancer survivors. Am J Phys Med Rehabil 2019;98:154–64.
8. Oh SH, Ryu SH, Jeong HJ, Lee JH, Sim YJ. Effects of different bandaging methods for treating patients with breast cancer-related lymphedema. Ann Rehabil Med 2019;43:677–85.
9. Bae SH, Kim WJ, Seo YJ, Kim J, Jeon JY. Bioimpedance analysis for predicting outcomes of complex decongestive therapy for gynecological cancer related lymphedema: a feasibility study. Ann Rehabil Med 2020;44:238–45.
10. Henningsohn L, Wijkstrom H, Dickman PW, Bergmark K, Steineck G. Distressful symptoms after radical radiotherapy for urinary bladder cancer. Radiother Oncol 2002;62:215–25.
11. Quist M, Sommer MS, Vibe-Petersen J, Stærkind MB, Langer SW, Larsen KR, et al. Early initiated postoperative rehabilitation reduces fatigue in patients with operable lung cancer: a randomized trial. Lung Cancer 2018;126:125–32.
12. Poulia KA, Sarantis P, Antoniadou D, Koustas E, Papadimitropoulou A, Papavassiliou AG, et al. Pancreatic cancer and cachexia-metabolic mechanisms and novel insights. Nutrients 2020;12:1543.
13. Rockson SG. Animal models for the translational investigation of lymphedema. Lymphat Res Biol 2019;17:401.
14. Frueh FS, Gousopoulos E, Rezaeian F, Menger MD, Lindenblatt N, Giovanoli P. Animal models in surgical lymphedema research: a systematic review. J Surg Res 2016;200:208–20.
15. Hsu JF, Yu RP, Stanton EW, Wang J, Wong AK. Current advancements in animal models of postsurgical lymphedema: a systematic review. Adv Wound Care (New Rochelle) 2022;11:399–418.
16. Akgul A. Future concepts : lymphangiogenesis in lymphedema therapy. Plast Reconstr Surg 2020;145:214e–215e.
17. Seo KS, Suh M, Hong S, Cheon GJ, Lee SU, Jung GP. The new possibility of lymphoscintigraphy to guide a clinical treatment for lymphedema in patient with breast cancer. Clin Nucl Med 2019;44:179–85.
18. Kilmartin L, Denham T, Fu MR, Yu G, Kuo TT, Axelrod D, et al. Complementary low-level laser therapy for breast cancer-related lymphedema: a pilot, doubleblind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Lasers Med Sci 2020;35:95–105.
19. Kim SK, Ahn YH, Yoon JA, Shin MJ, Chang JH, Cho JS, et al. Efficacy of systemic postoperative pulmonary rehabilitation after lung resection surgery. Ann Rehabil Med 2015;39:366–73.
20. Sommer MS, Staerkind ME, Christensen J, Vibe-Petersen J, Larsen KR, Holst Pedersen J, et al. Effect of postsurgical rehabilitation programmes in patients operated for lung cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Rehabil Med 2018;50:236–45.
21. Tazhikova A, Makishev A, Bekisheva A, Dmitriyeva M, Toleubayev M, Sabitova A. Efficacy of tibial nerve stimulation on fecal incontinence in patients with low anterior resection syndrome following surgery for colorectal cancer. Ann Rehabil Med 2022;46:142–53.
22. Oberoi S, Robinson PD, Cataudella D, Culos-Reed SN, Davis H, Duong N, et al. Physical activity reduces fatigue in patients with cancer and hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Crit Rev Oncol Hematol 2018;122:52–9.
23. Kim I, Koh Y, Shin D, Hong J, DO HJ, Kwon SH, et al. Importance of monitoring physical function for quality of life assessments in hematopoietic stem cell transplantation patients: a prospective cohort study. In Vivo 2020;34:771–7.
24. Poort H, Peters ME, van der Graaf WT, Nieuwkerk PT, van de Wouw AJ, Nijhuis-van der Sanden MW, et al. Cognitive behavioral therapy or graded exercise therapy compared with usual care for severe fatigue in patients with advanced cancer during treatment: a randomized controlled trial. Ann Oncol 2020;31:115–22.
25. Cheville AL, Kollasch J, Vandenberg J, Shen T, Grothey A, Gamble G, et al. A home-based exercise program to improve function, fatigue, and sleep quality in patients with Stage IV lung and colorectal cancer: a randomized controlled trial. J Pain Symptom Manage 2013;45:811–21.
26. Pyszora A, Budzynski J, Wojcik A, Prokop A, Krajnik M. Physiotherapy programme reduces fatigue in patients with advanced cancer receiving palliative care: randomized controlled trial. Support Care Cancer 2017;25:2899–908.
27. Cheville A. Rehabilitation of patients with advanced cancer. Cancer 2001;92(4 Suppl):1039–48.
28. Minnella EM, Awasthi R, Loiselle SE, Agnihotram RV, Ferri LE, Carli F. Effect of exercise and nutrition prehabilitation on functional capacity in esophagogastric cancer surgery: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Surg 2018;153:1081–9.
29. Carli F, Bousquet-Dion G, Awasthi R, Elsherbini N, Liberman S, Boutros M, et al. Effect of multimodal prehabilitation vs postoperative rehabilitation on 30-day postoperative complications for frail patients undergoing resection of colorectal cancer: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Surg 2020;155:233–42.
30. Lukez A, Baima J. The role and scope of prehabilitation in cancer care. Semin Oncol Nurs 2020;36:150976.

Article information Continued