Pink Week: How does Pink Week help? Examples are new cancer rehab treatments

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pink Week activities help Fitzgibbon Hospital Rehab Department add treatment options.

With help from monies generated at last year's Pink Week activities, the Fitzgibbon Hospital Rehab Department has deployed advanced therapies, some of which are targeted to assist breast cancer patients, according to a news release from the hospital.

Others will make therapy easier for patients recovering from injuries or recent surgeries.

One such treatment is the Graston® Technique. This procedure involves six stainless steel instruments that allow a therapist to treat tissue and track down sources of pain.

After the cause of pain has been found, the instruments are used to massage the tissue so it can heal and relieve the pain.

The treatment has been effective in restoring function to acute and chronic injuries and to pre- and postsurgical patients. It has also had 75-90 percent positive outcomes in all conditions treated.

Sharon Lammers, RPT, said this technique is like an extension of the therapist's hands.

"The Graston Technique instruments detect and amplify the feel of the soft tissue restrictions to the therapist's hands, similar to how a stethoscope amplifies the sound of a heartbeat," Lammers said. "Once the problem areas have been treated, the patient will heal quicker and muscle imbalances will be corrected."

Another treatment that is offered in Rehab is VitalStim® therapy, which is used in speech therapy.

According to rehab manager Andy Snyder, this process helps to treat swallowing difficulties and facial paralysis.

VitalStim is used to strengthen and help the brain reset the swallowing process. Snyder said the treatment was developed in 2002 and is the only device and therapy cleared by the FDA to treat this condition.

According to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, swallowing difficulties occur in nearly 50 percent of patients who have received chemo or radiation therapy. It also occurs following many strokes.

Since August, the Rehab Department has been providing treatment for lymphedema, a condition characterized by swelling in one or more extremities that results from impaired flow of the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system is a network of specialized vessels throughout the body. The purpose of these vessels is to collect excess lymph fluid with proteins, lipids and waste products from the tissues.

The fluid is then carried to the lymph nodes, which filter waste products and contain infection-fighting cells called lymphocytes. The excess fluid in the lymph vessels is eventually returned to the bloodstream.

When the lymph vessels are blocked or unable to carry the fluid away from the tissues, localized swelling, or lymphedema, is the result.

Lymphedema may be present at birth, although symptoms may not present themselves until later in life. Lymphedema may also develop when a normally-functioning lymphatic system is blocked or damaged.

Any type of surgical procedure that requires removal of regional lymph nodes or lymph vessels can potentially cause lymphedema.

Surgical procedures that have been associated with lymphedema include vein stripping, burn scar excision and peripheral vascular surgery.

Damage to lymph nodes and lymph vessels, leading to lymphedema, can also occur due to trauma, burns, radiation, infections or compression or invasion of lymph nodes by tumors.

Breast cancer surgery, especially when combined with radiation treatment, is the most common secondary cause.

The Rehab department will work closely with the Community Cancer Center at Fitzgibbon Hospital to treat lymphedema in cancer patients.

Over time, untreated lymphedema may result in infection, disfigurement, disability and even death. It is estimated that at least five million Americans suffer from lymphedema, and probably many more.

The procedure used by Fitzgibbon physical therapists will help to control swelling and to keep other problems from forming and will include massage, bandaging, exercises and skin care.

In the beginning, numerous treatments are given by the therapists over a short period of time to decrease the swelling. After that, the patient continues the treatment at home to keep the swelling down.

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