Cross-Channel Physios - World Cancer Day: What does physiotherapy have to do with cancer?

by Lara Garzón



In this new blog series, Lara shares her experience as an oversea-trained physiotherapist working in the UK. From guidance on the HCPC registration process to discussion around UK and international physio news, she hopes to provide help to foreign physios looking to work in the UK - and to connect with those of you who already are!

All episodes from Lara's blog series ››


For some the answer to this question might be obvious, for many others, not so much. I'm still surprised when I talk about the many avenues of physiotherapy and specifically when it comes to such big subjects, like today’s topic: cancer.

A few days ago my husband and I met up with an old friend of his. I had never met him before, so he politely asked me: what do you do? and my answer was: I am a physiotherapist. And although I did not give him any other clues of what I actually do within physiotherapy he inevitably assumed what many still do: oh! I am very involved with physio currently, I had an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) repair and I am having rehabilitation at the hospital. Since I had never met him before I decided not to go with the pedantic (perhaps irritating) tone I normally use against my family (apologies all) when they assume all physiotherapists do the same…

Now, I hope all my musculoskeletal physiotherapist colleagues do not feel offended. I value their expertise as much as any other, but I just wish one day people would ask us: and what speciality do you like/do/are going to do?, like they would to a doctor.

Well, I know we are working on it, and that is why today I will tell you a little bit about what physiotherapy has to do with cancer, or better said: how physiotherapy can help cancer patients.



  • Patients benefit in terms of quality of life from a hospital and home based exercise program after allogeneic stem cell transplantation (used in different conditions but also in some like follicular lymphoma).



What the evidence doesn’t tell you, or not quite extensively, is that for a physiotherapist to work with cancer patients they ought to have a good knowledge of physiology alongside what they already know about anatomy, pathology, etc. Cancer can affect many different part or systems in our bodies, from our blood, to our brain (affecting our neurological system among others), to our muscles, lungs, bones, other organs…

And what a coincidence, physiotherapy are proven to be already helping with all of these things individually. Physiotherapists can help someone regain, as far as possible, their walking pattern and their strength if they have had a brain tumor removed (just an example). We can help regain physical energy and increased someone's activity levels safely after they have been through chemotherapy. We can teach them breathing techniques and support them with a wide range of treatments and adjuncts if they struggle to keep their breathing at pace. We can provide post-surgical treatment, vital for example in breast cancer patients.

We can help patient regain control of their body, help them being as independent as possible after what they have been through.

However, is not all about recovery unfortunately. Sometimes even the medical team does their outmost to help, sometimes we cannot win. But even then, physiotherapists will be key in supporting patients, keeping them comfortable, and enabling them to have the best quality of life they can, for however long it needs to be.

This is probably one of the toughest, but also one of the most rewarding sides of medicine in general, and in physiotherapy in particular. This specific area is called palliative care physiotherapy (and it is not exclusive to cancer patients, we can be involved in the care of all end-of-life patients).

To me, every time I have worked with a physiotherapist specialised in treating oncology patients, it felt like working with a superhero. They need their skills sharp in all the key areas physiotherapy: msk, respiratory, neuro, general rehab, palliative care, and much more beyond this... Empathy, compassion, understanding, education, all those skills crucial to the care of such patients which are not taught at uni.



Physiotherapy doesn't stop there with regards to oncology care. We can also contribute to research. And even though there is an old tendency to think that research is mainly for doctors and pharmacists, there is a growing community of researcher physiotherapists. This is not limited to how we find out if the treatments we currently carry out are effective, we can also participate on researching routes to prevent some cancers or minimise their impact (see evidence above!)

Not to forget about prevention! It has been proven that prescribed physical activity can reduce the risk of developing cancers such as breast cancer.



Maybe I should have started with answering this question, but I did not want to do another post just about cancer. I wanted to highlight that like many other professions, we are already here, supporting, learning, caring, teaching, holding hands to beat cancer. And it wouldn't be faire not mentioning the bigger picture, as the truth is that if we are here part of a much wider team of healthcare professionals all working towards the same goals.

Today we want to make the world aware that science, medicine, society… have not given up on cancer. That all of us are working on better outlooks for our future when it comes to it. This is just a small piece of a much bigger puzzle, have a look around you today for World Cancer Day:

See all the events happening around the world live in, you can follow the hashtags #wcd #worldcancerday #wecanIcan on your social media.

If you liked this post, follow QP on twitter for more posts like this! If you would like to see other topics featured here let us know at

Comment below and let us know if you are participating in any activity to raise awareness. :)



About the author

Lara Garzón

Lara is a Spanish physiotherapist who has been working in the UK for the past 3 years. Having worked as a rotational physiotherapist over here, she's had experience in a wide range of specialities and now works as a Band 6 Physiotherapist. However, it hasn't always been easy finding her way and adjusting to the UK system. She's since been sharing her experience and helping other foreign-trained physios to come and settle here; firstly through her own blog, and now as part of the QP team!