Occupational therapy can play an important role in helping breast cancer survivors regain their physical and emotional well-being. Occupational therapists can work with patients to develop personalized treatment plans that focus on addressing the specific needs and goals of each individual (female or male). This can include exercises to help improve range of motion and strength, as well as strategies for managing pain, ongoing fatigue, and other symptoms associated with breast cancer treatment.
Women may experience restricted upper arm movement, lymphedema, emotional changes, even changes in interests. These symptoms can have adverse effects on both women and men’s well-being and quality of life.1 2
Occupational therapists can also provide education and support for managing changes in body image, self-esteem, and sexual function and participation. Additionally, they can help patients adapt to lifestyle changes, such as returning to work, leisure, or performing daily activities, that may be necessary as a result of their cancer treatment.
Occupational therapy can also help breast cancer survivors with specific practical concerns related to their treatment and recovery. This can include providing recommendations for adaptive equipment, such as special bras or arm sleeves, to help alleviate discomfort and promote healing. OTs can also make recommendations for how to make the environment more functional. They may also work with patients to develop strategies for managing side effects of treatment, such as lymphedema (swelling of the arm and/or breast), which can affect daily activities and mobility.
Occupational therapists can also help breast cancer survivors with work-related concerns, such as advocating for themselves and accommodations that may be necessary to help them return to work after treatment. They can also provide support and guidance to help patients navigate the physical and emotional challenges that may arise as they transition back to their daily activities and routines.
Many studies found that physical health that addressed exercise was found to be helpful for improving mental health and the participant’s quality of life. Other studies that incorporated purposeful activities as key components in the therapy may be helpful for breast cancer survivors. 3
Occupational therapists can teach patients about the importance of exercise and nutrition during and after cancer treatment safely, and provide guidance on how to safely incorporate physical activity into their daily routines. They can also provide information on healthy coping mechanisms and stress management techniques tailored to each person’s needs. This can be beneficial for managing the emotional and psychological challenges of cancer overall.
Another important aspect of occupational therapy for breast cancer survivors is addressing the psychological and emotional effects of the disease, even long after recovery. Occupational therapists are trained to help patients with the emotional and psychological challenges that may arise as a result of cancer diagnosis and treatment, such as stress, anxiety, depression and body image issues. They can provide support, strategies, and guidance to help patients and their spouses cope with these challenges and improve their overall quality of life.
In conclusion, occupational therapy can be a valuable resource for breast cancer survivors at any stage of their journey, from diagnosis to recovery. Occupational therapists can provide guidance and support to help caregivers such as spouses manage the demands of caregiving, as well as provide strategies for self-care for themselves. Occupational therapy as part of the rehabilitation team along other healthcare professionals and supports can help address physical, emotional, and practical concerns related to the disease and its treatment, and improve the overall quality of life for breast cancer survivors.
- Keesing, S., Rosenwax, L., & McNamara, B. (2018). Identifying the contribution of occupational therapy in meeting the needs of women survivors of breast cancer. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 81(7), 402–412. https://doi.org/10.1177/0308022618762080
- Sahin, S., & Uyanik, M. (2019). The impact of occupationbased problem-solving strategies training in women with breast cancer. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 17(1),
- Lucas Molitor, W., Clark, E., & Moser, B. (2023). A Scoping Review of Occupation-based Interventions for Women with Breast Cancer. The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy, 11(1), 1-9. https://doi.org/10.15453/2168-6408.2046