Physical Therapy Before Mesothelioma Treatment May Speed Recovery

Mesothelioma patients might make a faster and fuller recovery from surgery, chemotherapy or radiation treatment if they spend a few weeks beforehand receiving physical therapy.

National Public Radio described this possibility not long ago in a story about the use of rehabilitation therapy to improve the ability of cancer patients to bear up under surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.

Such use of rehab therapy is referred to as “prehab.” NPR talked to several cancer experts who are convinced prehab can help you more quickly bounce back.

The idea here is that you do a range of physical therapy exercises to get your body conditioned and hardened so that it better stands up to whichever mesothelioma treatment is on tap for you.

Prehab Makes Mesothelioma Treatment Easier

Prehab is something that’s been employed in the past with people who are getting ready for hip or knee surgery.

It’s said to have worked well for them by minimizing long-term physical impairments and reducing the potential for post-treatment heart issues and loss of balance.

Those successes in the world of orthopedics have caused researchers in the world of oncology to wonder if it might also do similar good for cancer patients.

Among the experts to whom NPR talked about this was Samman Shahpar, M.D., a physiatrist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

From Shahpar and others, NPR learned that the main component of cancer prehab is typically a structured exercise program to improve patient endurance, strength or cardiorespiratory health.

According to NPR, the rehab medicine specialist — either a physiatrist or a physical therapist — takes measurements to identify your functionality baseline.

One set of measurements is obtained by having you walk six minutes on a treadmill. The baseline figures that emerge are used to help you see whether you’re improving as you should after treatment.

They also allow doctors to address existing physical impairments you might have. Dealing with these before treatment can be important if they would otherwise make it hard for doctors to access your tumors, NPR said.

Depending on the program, patients may also receive psychological and nutritional counseling or other services as part of a prehab package, according to NPR.

Patients Bounced Back Faster with Prehab

NPR cited a clinical trial involving 77 colorectal cancer patients. Each of the study’s subjects was scheduled to undergo surgery to remove the tumors.

The researchers who conducted the trial divided the cohort into two arms. The first arm engaged in a prescribed regimen of rehabilitation exercises for 30 days prior to surgery.

The second arm participated in the same regimen. But they did so for 60 days after, not before, the surgery.

At the end of those 60 days, the two groups of patients were tested to see how well they could perform on a standardized six-minute walking test.

Most of the patients who did the exercises before surgery scored higher on the test than those who did them after.

As NPR reported, 84 percent of the pre-surgery rehab exercisers had regained all the ground they lost as a result of the surgery. But only 62 percent of the other group regained their lost ground.

NPR wrapped up its report by suggesting that more research is needed to get a better handle on when and under what circumstances prehab can be most beneficial to patients.