Pelvic Floor Dysfunction (PFD) is an often silent yet prevalent issue that casts a shadow over the lives of many cancer survivors. While the focus during cancer treatment is primarily on eradicating the disease, the aftermath can bring about a host of physical and emotional challenges, including pelvic floor dysfunction. Research underscores the alarming frequency of PFD among cancer survivors, but its true prevalence often remains unrecognized due to its underreported nature.
Meet the OncoPT working to change this dismal reality:
Dr. Alexandra Hill is a renowned expert in the field of oncology rehabilitation and pelvic floor health. With vast experience & compassionate creativity, Dr. Hill brings valuable insights to the forefront. Her expertise uncovers the often overlooked challenge of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction (PFD) in cancer survivorship.
In today’s episode, we uncover why pelvic floor dysfunction is so prevalent in oncology, plus easy-to-implement strategies on HOW to screen your patients for PFD & how to get started treating it…even if you’re not a pelvic floor specialist.
(Plus, you definitely don’t want to miss Alex’s riotous explanation of the corn test.)
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction is extremely common among cancer survivors
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction (PFD) is a prevalent concern among cancer survivors, extending beyond the direct impact of cancer and its treatments. While the physical toll of cancer therapies can undoubtedly contribute to PFD, the multifaceted nature of this condition reveals a deeper interplay of factors.
As survivors navigate their post-cancer journey, a comprehensive approach to addressing PFD becomes paramount—integrating rehabilitation, counseling, and holistic wellness strategies to restore not only the body but also the emotional well-being of patients.
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction is undertreated and underscreened in cancer rehab
Despite its high occurrence, PFD remains an undertreated facet of cancer rehabilitation. The intricate interplay of factors such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and emotional stressors makes PFD a complex issue that requires specialized attention.
Unfortunately, this aspect is often overshadowed by more immediate concerns, resulting in a lack of comprehensive screening and tailored rehabilitation strategies. This treatment gap can lead to survivors grappling with pelvic floor symptoms that negatively impact their quality of life.
Common pelvic floor issues in oncology
Pelvic floor issues in oncology encompass a wide range of symptoms and challenges. The intimate connection between cancer treatments and PFD is undeniable. Surgical procedures, especially those involving the pelvic region, can disrupt the integrity of pelvic floor muscles and surrounding structures. Radiation therapy can cause tissue fibrosis, leading to pain and limited mobility. The impact of chemotherapy & hormonal therapy can also influence pelvic floor function. Emotional distress and anxiety related to cancer diagnosis and treatment can further exacerbate the issue, as the pelvic floor responds to stress and tension.
Common issues include:
- Bladder dysfunction
- Bowel dysfunction
- Pelvic organ prolapse
- Pelvic pain
- Sexual dysfunction
Strategies to screen oncology patients for pelvic floor dysfunction
Given the pervasive nature of PFD among cancer survivors, it’s imperative to screen your patients effectively.
Alex recommends tying your screening questions to why they’re coming to rehab. For example:
- “GI distress is a common side effect of this chemotherapy, are you experiencing difficulty with your bowels?”
- “Some of my patients on __ treatment report experiencing pain & difficulty with their bowel & bladder habits – is it okay that I ask you about issues you may be having in your pelvic floor?”
Additionally, be confident & kind when you approach these topics. When you’re uncomfortable talking about these topics, your patients will feel your discomfort, which further dissuades them from openly discussing issues they may face.
Lastly, do not rush through this discussion. Intentionally carve out time in your session where you can discuss pelvic floor dysfunction in a calm & private manner.
Check out Alex’s new course, Pelvic Health Foundations for the Oncology Rehab Provider
Inside this course, you’ll get everything you need to confidently screen and provide initial interventions for pelvic health concerns, plus be able to comfortably talk about all things “down there” with cancer survivors.
This course is for you if…
- You’re an oncology rehab provider!
- You want to provide comprehensive care for cancer survivors that includes pelvic health
- You want to help cancer survivors experiencing pelvic health concerns but you don’t know where to start
- You want to become a Board-Certified Oncologic Clinical Specialist
- You’ve read articles and textbooks on pelvic health concerns among cancer survivors but you’re overwhelmed by the information and not sure how to implement it
- You want the pelvic health information but don’t want to do any internal work and don’t want to take a bunch of foundational oncology courses to take a specialty course
Until next time, this is Elise with TheOncoPT. And remember: you are exactly the physical therapist that your patients with cancer need. So let’s get to work.
About Dr. Alexandra Hill, PT
Dr. Alex Hill, PT, DPT, whose pronouns are she/her, earned her Doctor of Physical Therapy at the University of Florida and completed the Women’s Health Physical Therapy Residency at Duke Health. Alex is a double Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Women’s Health and Oncologic Physical Therapy and a LANA Certified Lymphedema Therapist. She is presently a physical therapist with UF Health Jacksonville, specializing in pelvic health, oncology, and lymphedema rehabilitation for all genders. In addition to her clinical work, she has multiple peer-reviewed research publications, mentors pre-PT and PT students, and is passionate about providing inclusive and empowering education on pelvic health and oncology rehab through her business, OncoPelvic PT.
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