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Leading-Edge Occupational Therapy Program Improves Quality of Life for Breast Cancer Patients After Surgery

Women Doing Physical Therapy with Female Therapist

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UChicago Medicine AdventHealth, in partnership with PT Solutions Physical Therapy, has developed a leading-edge occupational therapy program that reduces pain, increases range of motion and improves quality of life for post-surgical breast cancer patients.

The program is led by Cathy Kupczyk, an occupational therapist and certified lymphedema and cancer therapy specialist at UChicago Medicine AdventHealth La Grange. It has grown steadily as breast cancer rates have risen in recent years, especially among younger women. It now treats patients referred not only from UChicago Medicine AdventHealth, but also from other Chicago-area health systems.

Kupczyk customizes therapy for each patient, starting with an evaluation focusing on activities of daily living that they can no longer do comfortably. Setting goals, such as hugging without pain, is an important part of each evaluation.

She gives each patient home exercises to start right away, and twice-a-week therapy sessions follow that last from 45 minutes to an hour. The sessions continue for at least four weeks and can go longer if needed. Each session can include manual therapy to release and soften scar tissue, which helps decrease pain and increase mobility. Kupczyk can also show patients how to massage scars at home. She performs manual lymphatic drainage if needed, massaging specific areas to move lymph fluid out of tissues. Kupczyk also instructs the patient through a series of therapeutic exercises aimed at regaining range of motion.

In recent years, Kupczyk has propelled the program’s growth by dedicating most of her continuing education to studying the latest therapies for post-surgical breast cancer patients. She has used her learnings to enhance her lymphedema therapies with ones designed to address issues that often arise after breast cancer surgery and radiation therapy, such as axillary web syndrome, also known as “cording,” which causes pain and tightness in the upper arm and reduces range of motion.

Kupczyk said awareness of the need for rehabilitation therapy after breast cancer surgery is growing among physicians, and she is grateful for the increasing number of referrals the program has been receiving.

Kupczyk emphasized, “It’s never too late to be referred,” noting that she has helped patients as long as 10 to 20 years after surgery. To learn more about the program, call Call708-245-7900.

Kupczyk was recently featured on CBS News discussing this cutting-edge occupational therapy program.

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