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Allied Health Professionals Make a Major Difference for Cancer Patients

Founded in 1884, Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) is not only the oldest, but also one of most highly regarded cancer research and treatment centers in the world.  It has also been a longstanding leader in using allied health professionals as a critical part of their oncology treatment teams,

The Sillerman Center for Rehabilitation, is MSK’s 22,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility located in midtown Manhattan. This facility has personal treatment bays, as well as a spacious gymnasium with state-of-the-art equipment.  The advances that they have made at Sillerman in managing the effects for chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and post-surgical recoveries from cancer for both children and adults make this facility a model for oncology treatment elsewhere in the country.

Sillerman’s rehabilitation staff includes physical therapists, occupational therapists, and physiatrists (physicians who specialize in rehabilitation medicine).  They collaborate with other medical staff to improve our patients’ well-being. Their team has expertise in therapeutic exercise, neuromuscular training, pulmonary rehabilitation, and other techniques for improving quality of life. They also provide important educational resources to patients and their families.

Physical therapists work with oncology side effects like decreased strength and range of motion, difficulty walking, decreased balance, neuropathy (numbness, pain, or muscle weakness), fatigue, scar tissue adhesions and radiation fibrosis.

Vestibular rehab is a particularly specialized focus for PT at Sillerman.  Patients undergoing cancer treatments sometimes experience persistent dizziness or a loss of balance due to inner ear problems.  These physical therapists are specially trained to develop a set of exercises and activities to retrain patients in how to regain their equilibrium. Patients who undergo vestibular rehabilitation are less likely to fall which reduces the risk of additional medical complications.

Another thing that physical therapists at Sillerman treat are problems caused by cancer treatments that damage what is known as the muscular floor of the pelvis. This can cause pain in the pelvis, back, sacrum, or tailbone; urinary or fecal incontinence; or an inability to enjoy intimate physical relations.

Sillerman’s occupational therapists focus on daily activities such as dressing, bathing, eating, preparing meals, and managing the home after treatment. They also teach the patient and their caregivers how to use devices that can make these daily activities easier. They are also skilled at identifying and addressing social and environmental issues that may be causing you trouble.

Certain cancer treatments (usually surgery and radiation therapy), may affect a patient’s ability to swallow, speak, or hear. While these side effects are most common for patients with head and neck cancers, people with other types of cancer may also experience these functional problems following treatment.  Like the other allied health specialists on staff, the Speech and Hearing therapists often get excellent results because of their exclusive focus on cancer-related issues.

I strongly believe that research currently being conducted at MSK will prove a fairly obvious fact—cancer patients have far better rehabilitation outcomes and post-treatment quality of life when they work with allied health professionals who specialize in the problems by nearly all cancer treatments and some cancer surgeries.  To get a fuller idea of the range and breadth of the highly specialized rehab programs offered at Memorial Sloan Kettering through Sillerman, please visit their website:  MSK cancer rehab.   I am sure that other well-known centers like MD Anderson, Mayo, and the University of Chicago are working hard to develop the kind of OT, PT, and SLP oncology sophistication that they possess at the Sillerman Center.


Robert Hoyt, Ph.D.


Allied Health Professionals LLC

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