Sarah Cannon - October 29, 2014

While the idea of undergoing rehabilitation after treatment for cancer may be familiar to most patients, the concept of prehabilitation, therapy before your treatment, probably is not.

So what is it, and why do you need it? TriStar Centennial Medical Center's Director of Rehabilitation, Jeff LeCates, and Mardys Hewgley, physical therapist, explain how prehabilitation (prehab) can benefit cancer patients.

Available through TriStar Centennial&rsqup;s Rehabilitation Center in Nashville, prehab is a program of exercises tailored to the patient's upcoming treatment type, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or some combination of the three.

"Our goal is to have our patients get as healthy as possible before they have surgery or any other medical interventions for their cancer," said LeCates.  Prehab also provides us with an understanding of the patient's current physical condition, their strength, range of motion and level of function, valuable information for the rehabilitation stage post-treatment."

Benefits of Prehabilitation

The TriStar Centennial therapists not only provide specific exercises but also education, LeCates added. "We explain to them what's going to happen regarding their treatment and possible complications we have seen with surgery. We tell them what they can do to minimize the effects of that treatment beforehand, and then establish their baseline and their goal following treatment."

The psychological benefit of prehab is as important as the physical aspect, according to Hewgley. "More than anything, prehab gives the patients something that they can control. When they are going through a lot of cancer treatments, everything is out of their control. But the specific prehab exercises they do gives them a way to improve their health and counter the effects of surgery, chemotherapy or radiation."

For those patients who are hesitant to follow their doctor’s advice and enroll in a prehab program, Hewgley pointed out that “ research has shown that, with certain kinds of cancers, prognosis and recurrence rates have been lowered with doing some form of exercise most days, which we usually tell them is five or more days a week. For someone with cancer, that usually is enough to get them saying, 'Okay, I need to do this.'"

How to Enroll

Beginning a prehab program is as simple as having your doctor authorize it, said LeCates. "Once you're diagnosed with cancer, a nurse navigator coordinates with your doctor to get the needed authorization. Once we verify the insurance, we schedule an evaluation and then develop a program."

Many prehab programs, including the one at TriStar Centennial, allows the patient to either come to the center for therapy, or, if it's more convenient, follow the program at home or at a local gym. But whatever location you choose, following your prehab program will definitely give you the physical and psychological boost you need for the road ahead.


More questions about prehabilitation? Contact askSARAH, a dedicated information service for our community of patients and partners. Please contact askSARAH for more information on this blog post or any oncology inquiry.