The Role of Occupational Therapy In Cancer Care

The Role of Occupational Therapy In Cancer Care

Cancer is a multifaceted disease that affects quality of life and occupation performance of millions of individuals across the nation. It is estimated, in the United States, 15.5 million individuals live with a history of cancer (Taylor, 2018; National Cancer Institute, 2018). The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2014), estimates that one in two men and one in three women before the age of 85 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer. Advances in medicine for cancer management and treatment for various forms of cancer, has significantly increased the survival rates of cancer patients. Occupational therapists (OTs), have the skills, knowledge, and education to provide interventions to cancers survivors to improve quality of life (QOL) and occupational performance.

The role of OTs in the cancer care continuum focus on interventions that promote participation, independence, and well-being in individual’s occupational roles. Cancer treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, and hematopoietic stem cell transplant (Taylor, 2018). Cancer treatments can cause various side effects, such as, fatigue, pain, weakness, cognition, depression, anxiety, and changes in selfimage. These common side effects in return disrupt an individual’s abilities to perform their self-care, work, leisure, or social activities (AOTA, 2011). The cancer care continuum is not a linear path, in fact, many cancer survivors will find themselves facing a cyclical path involving periods of remission and reoccurrence. Just as cancer treatment is not a linear path, occupational therapy treatment is unique in the sense that it provides treatment that fits the needs of individuals as they go through the different phases of the cancer care continuum.

There are various forms of assessments that can be utilized when identifying barriers to occupational performance. Assessments used should identify barriers within client factors to be able to develop attainable goals that meet the individuals desired occupational outcomes. Some examples of assessments that can be used include but are not limited to (Braveman, Hunter, Arbesman, & Lieberman, 2017):

• Model of Human Occupation Screening Tool
• Canadian Occupational Performance Measure
• Brief Fatigue Inventory
• Pain Assessment Scale
• Activity Measure for Post-Acute Care (Daily Activity)
• Rivermead Behavioral Memory Test
• General Assessment of ADLs and IADLs


When providing occupational therapy intervention to cancer survivors, occupational therapy aims to maximize independence in occupational roles to improve overall QOL. To accomplish occupational therapy goals, treatment methods used include remedial and compensatory strategies (Cross, 2019; Bravemen et. al., 2017). Examples of occupational therapy interventions include but are not limited to (Cross, 2019; Braveman et. al., 2017; AOTA, 2018):

• Management of Occupations (ADLs, IADLs, Work, Leisure, Social Participation)
• Energy Conservation Techniques
• Lifestyle Managementpreventative health, improved fitness
• Monitoring signs and symptoms of lymphedema
• Strategies for reducing anxiety and depression
• Yoga to reduce stress
• Home Exercise – range of motion, stretching, postural exercises
• Cognitive strategies- memory, problem solving, organizational executive function deficits
• Sleep and fatigue management
• Family and caregiver education


According to Cooper (2006), OTs have been providing intervention for people living with cancer for many years. However, research is needed to continue to support the role of OTs in the cancer care continuum. According to Buckland and Mackenzie (2017), OTs improve cancer survivors QOL by developing treatment interventions across the continuum of care that allows for individuals to increase independence in selfcare, work, and leisure activities. Occupational therapists provide client-centered treatment that focuses on the client’s abilities and needs as they journey through the cancer care continuum. In conclusion to optimize cancer survivor’s occupational performance and QOL, evidence supports a multidisciplinary rehabilitation program.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). (2014). Cancer in Australia: An overview 2014.
Canberra, ACT: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
Braveman, B., Hunger, E. G., Nicholson, J., Arbesman, M., & Lieberman, D. (2017). Occupational therapy interventions for adults with cancer. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 71(5). https://doi. org/10.5014/ajot.2017.715003
Buckland, N., & Mackenzie, L. (2017). Exploring the role of occupational therapy in caring for cancer survivors in Australia: a cross sectional study. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 64, 358-368. doi:10.1111/1440-1630.12386
Cooper, J. (2006). Occupational therapy in oncology and palliative care (2nd ed.).West Sussex, Englan:Whurr.
Coss, D. (2019). Occupational therapy interventions in cancer care. Retrieved from
Longpre, S., & Newman, R. (2011). The role of occupational therapy in oncology. Retrieved from
National Cancer Institute. (2018).Cancer stat facts: cancer of any site. Retrieved from
Taylor, S. F. (2018). Occupational therapy and the cancer care continuum: adjusting treatment focuses. Retrieved from
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