Breast Cancer Recovery

Contact Us

Occupational Therapy

600 Somerset Avenue
4th Floor
Windber, PA 15963

Phone: 814-467-3189
Fax: 814-467-3452

The Breast Cancer Recovery Program is offered at CSSMCW through the Occupational Therapy Department. This is a specialized and individualized program designed in partnership with lymphedema program, to provide education, support and rehabilitation for patients diagnosed with breast cancer amidst any stage of their treatment process.

What support is available after my breast cancer diagnosis?

When possible, a one-visit evaluation before breast cancer surgery is important so that the therapist can obtain preoperative arm/trunk measurements, range of motion, activity level, and the post-surgical cancer treatment plan. During this evaluation, patients can also receive instruction in safe post-surgical movement recommendations/exercises and support regarding lymphedema risk reduction practices, lifestyle, nutrition, and chemotherapy/radiation therapy side effects.

Following my breast surgery or cancer treatment, what symptoms may indicate that therapy is needed?

Just following surgery and up to 1-2 years after surgery/cancer treatment, patients may experience symptoms that do not feel quite right and limit the return to normal life activities. Early therapy leads to faster recovery and also decreases the risk of lymphedema. Use the symptom screener below to determine if an occupational therapy evaluation is right for you! Contact your doctor or therapist if you are noticing several of these symptoms.

What therapy services are available after my breast surgery?

After surgery, an occupational therapist will evaluate and assess post-operative symptoms and the need for potential treatment. Care can be provided throughout chemotherapy and radiation, allowing for healing time as needed. Patients may initiate the Breast Cancer Recovery Program and/or Complex Lymphatic Therapy Program based on the evaluation.

If post-op symptoms are noted (Click here for a Post-Surgical Breast Cancer Symptom Screening Checklist), a consistent phase of occupational therapy called the Breast Cancer Recovery Program is recommended. The program is appropriate for ALL post-operative patients and is HIGHLY ADVISED for patients who have had more than five lymph nodes removed, a mastectomy, or tissue expanders/reconstruction. An occupational therapist develops an individualized plan based on the patient’s specific needs to support the healing process.

Treatment may include soft tissue and scar mobilization, progressive range of motion, techniques to address pain, progressive weight training, home exercise, assessments of trunk and limb swelling, and patient instruction in self-surveillance and home management. Patients are given education about lymphedema risk reduction strategies. Post-op therapy reduces the risk of lymphedema, and research continues to show that early treatment and exercise after breast cancer surgery results in significant physical/psychological healing and reduces the risk of lymphedema.

Developing a relationship with a specialized therapist enables consistent assessment, early detection, and appropriate treatment of lymphedema when it is needed.

What does it mean if I am diagnosed with lymphedema after my surgery?

Lymphedema following breast cancer surgery is an abnormal buildup of lymphatic fluid in the arm, breast or torso that may be temporary or persistent, and in some cases results in chronic, progressive swelling. Lymphedema Therapy is a program offered through CSSMCW’s Occupational Therapy Department. An occupational therapist with advanced training and certification in lymphedema establishes a plan of care using the methods of Complex Lymphatic Therapy (CLT). Goals of treatment include improvements in swelling, pain, skin abnormalities, mobility and daily functions as well as instruction in self-management and surveillance at home.

How do I recognize lymphedema?

Secondary, or acquired, lymphedema can develop as a result of cancer surgery and related treatments. Lymphedema can develop immediately after surgery or be diagnosed weeks, months and even years later. Additionally, when lymph nodes are removed or radiation treatment damages the tissue, there is always a higher risk of developing lymphedema. If you suspect any of the symptoms listed below, inform your doctor right away and discuss treatment potential. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment improve both the current condition and your future health.

Symptoms may include:

  • Visible persistent swelling or puffiness in the affected arm, breast, chest, armpit, or back, perhaps noted particularly around bony areas
  • A full, heavy, or achy sensation in arm, armpit, breast or torso
  • Skin tightness, firmness, or pain
  • Decreased flexibility in specific joints
  • Difficulty fitting into clothing in one specific area
  • Tight-fitting bracelet, watch, or ring that was not tight before