Breast Cancer: Rehabilitation

While you are being treated for breast cancer, you may not have the energy you once did or be able to move your body as easily as before. You may also notice swelling in your arm or hand or chest area after the surgery. Swelling that occurs right after surgery is common and usually resolves with time. If the swelling persists, you may have a condition called lymphedema.

If you have any physical problems that start after surgery or during treatment, tell your doctor or nurse so that he or she can refer you to a rehabilitation professional. An occupational therapist and a physical therapist are available at the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center to educate and treat patients with lymphedema or limited mobility after surgery, and to discuss a safe return to daily activities.

Physical and occupational therapists are also available at the Outpatient Rehabilitation Center. Memorial Sloan Kettering's physical and occupational therapists work closely with patients, their families, and the medical team to enhance quality of life throughout treatment, recuperation, and life after cancer.

Many people wonder about the best time to resume their prior activities and exercise routines. Some people are inclined to start moving right away, while others proceed more cautiously. Either way is fine. As you resume your daily activities, you should pay close attention to the side on which you had your surgery. If you notice pain, aching, heaviness, or discomfort, you should take a break. When the symptoms go away, you can resume the activity. If you continue to feel symptoms every time you do the activity, or if the symptoms become more frequent, you should talk with your doctor or nurse.

Our bodies are designed to move. Gentle exercise is a safe way to begin moving your body after surgery, and it can also help you feel more energetic during your treatment. After completing treatment, exercise can help you maintain your range of motion and strength so that you can return to your normal routine and participate in all the activities that give you pleasure. Exercise can also help you maintain your normal weight or safely work toward a more ideal body weight.

Our Integrative Medicine Service offers many therapies to help you manage the side effects of treatment. Services are offered at the Breast and Imaging Center, as well as at 1429 First Avenue. At the Breast Center, the Integrative Medicine Service offers acupuncture treatment every Tuesday and Thursday, and a Focused Fitness for Women class every Wednesday morning. This class is designed to help breast cancer survivors reduce the risk of lymphedema and frozen shoulder. Private fitness instruction is also available. For more information on the full range of services, please call 646-888-0800.