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Occupational Therapy in Cancer Care

What is Cancer?

The unchecked growth and division of abnormal cells characterize a group of illnesses known as cancer. These cells proliferate and multiply out of control, accumulating into tumours or masses of tissue. Cancer, whether benign or malignant, can affect any part of the body. An uncancerous growth that does not metastasize (spread to other body parts) is called a benign tumour. Malignant tumours, which are cancerous and can spread to other parts of the body, are typically more aggressive and dangerous than benign tumours. A malignant tumour, on the other hand, is a form of cancerous growth that has the ability to spread (metastasize) to other body parts. Malignant tumours, which do not spread to other areas of the body and are typically not life-threatening, are typically more aggressive and dangerous than benign tumours.

Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. These cells divide and grow in an uncontrolled way, forming tumours or masses of tissue.

There are numerous varieties of cancer, each with unique traits and curative options. Lung, prostate, and colon cancer are some common types of the disease. It is crucial to remember that cancer is a group of diseases with various causes and behaviours rather than a single illness. The specific course of treatment and prognosis for a cancer patient depend on the cancer's type, stage, and general health.

Cancer remains the leading cause of death in Canada. An estimated 2 in 5 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime and about 1 in 4 will die from cancer. - Government of Canada

What is the difference between cancer cells and normal cells?

There are several key differences between cancer cells and normal cells:

Growth and division: Compared to normal cells, cancer cells multiply and divide much more quickly, and they do not stop growing when they should. When normal cells reach the end of their lifespan, they will stop dividing and disappear from the body.

DNA damage and repair: Cancer cells frequently have damaged DNA that is incorrectly repaired, which can encourage the growth of additional abnormal cells. Damaged DNA can be repaired by normal cells, which aids in preventing the growth of cancer.

Lack of specialization: Compared to normal cells, cancer cells frequently lack the level of specialization necessary to perform a given function within the body. Normal cells, on the other hand, serve a specific purpose, such as producing hormones, transporting oxygen, or assisting in the fight against infection.

Ability to spread: Unlike healthy cells, cancer cells have the capacity to spread, or metastasize, to other areas of the body. One of the main reasons cancer can be so difficult to treat and is potentially fatal is because of this.

Response to therapy: Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are frequently resistant by cancer cells. Normal cells can suffer damage or even die from these treatments because they are frequently more sensitive.

There are several treatment options available for cancer; the specific treatment plan will depend on the type and stage of cancer and the person's overall health.

How does cancer develop?

When DNA alterations, or mutations, in a cell result in unchecked cell division, cancer is the result. Numerous factors, such as exposure to specific chemicals, radiation, viruses, and inherited genetic mutations, can cause these mutations. Uncontrolled cell division and growth can lead to the formation of tumours or masses of abnormal cells.

It's crucial to remember that not all mutations result in cancer. The body's immune system or other repair mechanisms can frequently identify damaged DNA and repair it before it can result in cancer. However, if the mutations are not corrected or happen in particular important genes that control cell growth and division, they can result in the emergence of cancer.

The use of tobacco, exposure to specific chemicals and substances, a family history of cancer, particular infections, and specific inherited genetic mutations are just a few of the many factors that can increase a person's risk of getting cancer. But it's also crucial to remember that many cancer sufferers have no known risk factors, and that the disease can strike people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancers are expected to remain the most commonly diagnosed cancers, accounting for 46% of all diagnoses in 2021.

How does cancer spread?

Invasion and metastasis is the process by which cancer can spread to different areas of the body. During invasion, cancer cells separate from the primary tumour and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system. New tumours may then develop as a result of the cancer cells spreading to other body parts.

One of several ways that cancer cells can spread is through the lymphatic system, bloodstream, or by direct invasion. The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and nodes that aids in the body's natural ability to fight infection and remove extra fluid. The lymphatic system is a pathway for cancer cells to spread to nearby lymph nodes. Bloodstream entry allows cancer cells to spread to organs like the liver, brain, or bones. Additionally, cancerous cells have the ability to invade nearby tissues and organs directly.

It is significant to remember that not all cancers have the potential to spread, and that the type and stage of the cancer determine its propensity to do so. For instance, breast cancer has a higher propensity to spread to the lymph nodes or lungs than colon cancer does to the liver. Early cancer detection and treatment can frequently stop or slow the spread of the disease to other body parts.

What cancer treatments are available?

There are numerous cancer treatment options available; the precise course of action will depend on the type and stage of the cancer as well as the patient's general health. Typical cancer treatments include the following:

  • Surgery: Surgery is frequently used to remove the cancerous tumour and some surrounding tissue. In some cases, especially for early-stage cancers, surgery may be the only treatment required.

  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses medications to destroy cancer cells. These medications can be used alone or in conjunction with other treatments and can be taken orally or injected directly into a vein.

  • High-energy beams, like x-rays, are used in radiation therapy to kill cancer cells. It can be used both independently and in conjunction with other therapies.

  • Drugs that are made to target particular proteins or genetic mutations that are found in cancer cells are known as targeted therapies. These treatments can be used independently or in conjunction with other medical procedures.

  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that works to strengthen the immune system. It can be used both independently and in conjunction with other therapies.

  • With the aid of hormone therapy, hormones that can promote the growth of some cancers, including breast and prostate cancer, are prevented from being produced or acting.

  • Clinical trials are research projects that test novel therapies and treatments on human subjects. A person may gain access to treatments that aren't yet widely used by taking part in clinical trials.

It is crucial to remember that there may be side effects from cancer treatment, and these side effects will vary depending on the type and extent of the treatment. Fatigue, nausea, hair loss, and skin changes are just a few of these potential side effects. It is crucial to discuss the potential side effects with a healthcare professional before beginning treatment.

occupational therapy's role in treating cancer is to help individuals manage the physical and functional effects of cancer and cancer treatment and support them in their efforts to continue participating in the activities that are important to them.

What is the role of occupational therapy in cancer care?

Numerous ways exist for occupational therapy to contribute to the care and treatment of cancer patients. Following are some examples of how occupational therapy might be applied to the treatment of cancer:

  1. Helping individuals to manage physical side effects of cancer treatment: Cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can cause physical side effects that can affect a person's ability to carry out their daily activities. Occupational therapy can help individuals to manage these side effects and to find ways to continue participating in their usual activities.

  2. Enhancing mobility and function: A person's mobility and capacity to carry out particular tasks can occasionally be impacted by cancer and cancer treatment. Individuals can benefit from occupational therapy to increase their mobility and function, for example by using adaptive equipment or by learning new job-related techniques.

  3. Occupational therapy can assist people in managing their pain by using methods like relaxation, positioning, and assistive devices. Pain can be brought on by cancer and its treatment.

  4. Occupational therapy can assist people in returning to work by addressing any physical or functional limitations and by assisting them in developing coping mechanisms for fatigue and other side effects.

  5. Supporting those with cancer: Occupational therapy can support those with cancer by assisting them in finding ways to engage in worthwhile activities and offering emotional support and guidance.

Overall, occupational therapy's role in the treatment of cancer is to support patients as they work to continue engaging in activities that are meaningful to them while managing the physical and functional side effects of cancer and cancer treatment.


Cancer - Symptoms and causes. (2022, December 7). Mayo Clinic.

Garcia, L. (2022, May 20). Occupational therapy for cancer patients: What is it, and who needs it? MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Public Health Agency of Canada. (n.d.). Canadian Cancer Statistics 2021 -

What Is Cancer? (2021, October 11). National Cancer Institute.


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