Intervene early and prevent disabilities related to cancer from becoming serious.
That's the focus of a cancer rehabilitation model developed at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda -- now part of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center -- along with a few other U.S. medical centers.
This "prospective surveillance model" of cancer rehabilitation involves evaluating patients soon after diagnosis and then at regular intervals -- typically every three months, for up to a year -- once treatment is complete. If emerging problems are identified, they can be addressed promptly.
The center began using this approach with breast cancer patients in 1999. Most fully recovered their range of motion and other functions 12 months after surgery, according to a 2010 study in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.
Costs are also lower when problems such as lymphedema are identified and addressed early on in breast cancer patients, according to a study published in January in the journal Physical Therapy. Researchers estimated that treatment for breast-cancer-related lymphedema cost $636.19 a year when the prospective surveillance model was used vs. $3,125 for traditional treatment, which typically does not begin until lymphedema is advanced and patients are experiencing significant functional limitations.
In February, officials from the American Cancer Society, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Society of Radiation Oncology, the American Physical Therapy Association and other groups met to review evidence supporting the prospective surveillance model and to consider promoting its widespread adoption.
Proceedings from that meeting will be published early next year, and this new model of cancer rehabilitation may eventually become part of patients' post-treatment plans, said Nicole Stout of Walter Reed. She said the medical center is working toward making the prospective surveillance model a standard of care for all cancer survivors.