Rehabilitation and quality-of-life issues in patients with extremity soft tissue sarcoma

Curr Treat Options Oncol. 2004 Dec;5(6):477-88. doi: 10.1007/s11864-004-0036-0.


The current standard of care for soft tissue sarcoma (STS) is limb salvage surgery and adjuvant radiotherapy, with long-term survival rates of approximately 70%. However, the extensive surgical resection and subsequent reconstruction result in 50% of survivors living with chronic disability. Rehabilitation aims to optimize functional independence and quality of life, and is routinely offered to patients undergoing surgical treatment for STS. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of research related to rehabilitation in this area. We propose a model for assessing disability, for designing treatment interventions and for evaluating rehabilitative outcomes in STS. The World Health Organization's (WHO) international classification of functioning, disability, and health (ICF) is divided into three domains: 1) impairments (related to body structure and function), 2) activity limitations (related to usual self-care activities/activities of daily living), and 3) participation restrictions (related to social roles). A literature review of STS rehabilitation reveals that most studies have focused on disability assessment, with few papers describing or evaluating rehabilitation interventions commonly employed in STS. Clinicians are forced to extrapolate findings from other patient populations in order to evaluate the effectiveness of specific rehabilitation strategies (ie, those used for particular sequelae of STS, such as lymphedema or impaired exercise tolerance). There is strongest support for complex decongestive physiotherapy (targeting lymphedema) and aerobic exercise interventions (aimed at alleviating cancer-related fatigue and psychosocial sequelae). The most poorly researched topic is rehabilitation for genitourinary disability (both incontinence and sexual dysfunction). Most studies related to oncologic rehabilitation are restricted to the impairment level (eg, affecting range of motion, muscle strength) of the ICF, with only a small minority addressing activity limitations (eg, affecting activities of daily living) experienced by patients. A consideration of participation restrictions (eg, fulfillment of vocational roles) is almost wholly absent from the literature. Yet social role reintegration is of fundamental importance to patients. Further research is required in these two domains. The ICF provides a comprehensive framework for future research into rehabilitation interventions for STS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Extremities*
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life
  • Sarcoma / rehabilitation*
  • Sarcoma / therapy
  • Soft Tissue Neoplasms / rehabilitation*
  • Soft Tissue Neoplasms / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome