Physical Therapists in Oncology Settings: Experiences in Delivering Cancer Rehabilitation Services, Barriers to Care, and Service Development Needs

Phys Ther. 2022 Mar 1;102(3):pzab287. doi: 10.1093/ptj/pzab287.


Objective: Physical therapist-delivered rehabilitation aims to manage the side effects of cancer and its treatments. Although access to cancer rehabilitation is not yet a standard of care in many countries, physical therapists practice in many types of cancer services with different cancer populations. The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of physical therapists in cancer care practice with regard to their role, the factors influencing service delivery and development, and physical therapists' professional development needs.

Methods: In this qualitative study with semistructured interviews, physical therapists in cancer care settings in the Republic of Ireland were interviewed via telephone. Participants (n = 17) represented a variety of clinical settings and roles. Two researchers performed thematic analysis of transcriptions using a semantic, inductive approach. Key themes and codes were identified and illustrative quotes were selected.

Results: Six main themes were found: the need for more services, barriers to service development and delivery, a lack of awareness of the role of physical therapy, facilitators to service development, goals for the future of oncology physical therapy, and training needs of staff.

Conclusions: Physical therapists provide valuable interventions across the spectrum of cancer care but experience barriers to the delivery and development of services. Investment in oncology physical therapy and developing international standards of care will allow physical therapists to meet the rehabilitation needs of survivors of cancer.

Impact: As international guidelines increasingly recommend development of cancer rehabilitation programs, it is important to understand physical therapists' experiences of working in cancer care to assist in the development of effective oncology physical therapy services. This study demonstrates that physical therapist-led cancer rehabilitation services need investment and public promotion to enable the provision of optimal services to all patients with cancer and to meet standards of care.

Keywords: Cancer Rehabilitation; Oncology; Physical Therapy; Qualitative.

MeSH terms

  • Allied Health Personnel
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms*
  • Physical Therapists*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Qualitative Research