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Herman & Wallace Blog

Rehabilitating Pelvic Floor Muscles after Cancer Treatment

A recent systematic review by Bernard et al (2016) looked at the effects of radiation therapy on the structure and function of the pelvic floor muscles of patients with cancer in the pelvic area. Although surgery and chemotherapy are often used treatment approaches in the management of pelvic cancers, this paper specifically focused on radiation therapy: ‘… is often recommended in the treatment of pelvic cancers. Following radiation therapy, a high prevalence of pelvic floor dysfunctions (urinary incontinence, dyspareunia, and fecal incontinence) is reported. However, changes in pelvic floor muscles after radiation therapy remain unclear. The purpose of this review was to systematically document the effects of radiation therapy on the pelvic floor muscle structure and function in patients with cancer in the pelvic area.’

The paper concluded that ‘…There is some evidence that radiation therapy has detrimental impacts on both pelvic floor muscles' structure and function’ and that ‘A better understanding of muscle damage and dysfunction following radiation therapy treatment will improve pelvic floor rehabilitation and, potentially, prevention of its detrimental impacts.’

Pelvic floor therapists already working in the field of gynecologic oncology will be all too aware of the impacts clinically and functionally on pelvic cancer survivors’ quality of life. We are in a privileged position to provide an evidence based and solution focused approach to the pelvic health issues that are so often under-recognized, and frankly under-addressed for women undergoing treatment for pelvic cancers.

Whether it is advice on managing anal fissures (skin protection, down-training overactive pelvic floor muscles, achieving good stool consistency, teaching defecatory techniques) or dealing with dyspareunia (dilator or vibrator selection, choosing and using an appropriate lubricant, dealing with the ergonomic or orthopedic challenges that can be a barrier to returning to sexual function and enjoyment), pelvic rehab practitioners are probably the best clinicians for optimizing a return to both pelvic and global health during and after treatment for pelvic cancers.

"Pelvic Floor Rehab Physiotherapy is effective even in gynecologic cancer survivors who need it the most"

But one of the biggest barriers we face is lack of awareness – on the part of the patients but also, unfortunately the lack of awareness in the medical and oncology community about the benefits of pelvic rehab. Happily this situation is improving – not only is the evidence base expanding from the researchers, but oncologists are recognizing that pelvic rehab is a key component of regaining quality and not just quantity of life after treatment ends. As Yang reported in his 2012 paper – pelvic floor rehab programs improve pelvic floor function (particularly urinary continence and sexual function) and overall quality of life in gynecologic cancer patients. And perhaps, most heartening of all, was his statement that "Pelvic Floor Rehab Physiotherapy is effective even in gynecologic cancer survivors who need it the most"

You can learn more about pelvic floor muscle rehabilitation for cancer patients by attending "Oncology and the Female Pelvic Floor: Female Reproductive and Gynecologic Cancers" on April 29-30, 2017 in Maywood, IL.


Effects of radiation therapy on the structure and function of the pelvic floor muscles of patients with cancer in the pelvic area: a systematic review.’ J Cancer Surviv. 2016 Apr;10(2):351-62. doi: 10.1007/s11764-015-0481-8. Epub 2015 Aug 28. Bernard, S. et al
Effect of a pelvic floor muscle training program on gynecologic cancer survivors with pelvic floor dysfunction: a randomized controlled trial.’ Gynecol Oncol. 2012 Jun;125(3):705-11. doi: 10.1016/j.ygyno.2012.03.045. Epub 2012 Apr 1. Yang EJ, et al

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Upcoming Continuing Education Courses

Boundaries, Self-Care, and Meditation - Remote Course

May 22, 2020 - May 31, 2020
Location: Replacement Remote Course

Oncology of the Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Remote Course

May 26, 2020 - Jun 4, 2020
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Pelvic Floor Level 1 Part 1 - Remote Course (SOLD OUT)

May 28, 2020 - May 29, 2020
Location: Short Form Remote Course

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Chicago, IL (RESCHEDULED)

May 29, 2020 - May 31, 2020
Location: Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center

Boundaries, Self-Care, and Meditation - Columbus, OH (RESCHEDULED)

May 29, 2020 - May 31, 2020
Location: The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Pelvic Floor Level 2A - Syracuse, NY (RESCHEDULED)

May 29, 2020 - May 31, 2020
Location: SUNY Upstate Medical University

Gender Diversity and Pelvic Health - Livingston, NJ (RESCHEDULED)

May 29, 2020 - May 31, 2020
Location: Ambulatory Care Center- RWJ Barnabas Health

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Maywood, IL (Rescheduled)

May 29, 2020 - May 31, 2020
Location: Loyola University Health System

Sexual Medicine in Pelvic Rehab - Remote Course (SOLD OUT)

May 30, 2020 - May 31, 2020
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Pregnancy Rehabilitation - Remote Course (SOLD OUT)

May 30, 2020 - May 31, 2020
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Sacroiliac Joint Evaluation and Treatment - Nashua, NH (RESCHEDULED)

May 30, 2020 - May 31, 2020
Location: St. Joseph Hospital Rehabilitative Services

Postpartum Rehabilitation - Foothill Ranch, CA (Rescheduled)

May 30, 2020 - May 31, 2020
Location: Intercore Physical Therapy

Pilates for the Pelvic Floor - Valencia, CA (Rescheduled)

May 30, 2020 - May 31, 2020
Location: Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital

Building Resilience Through Nourishment

Jun 2, 2020
Location: Short Form Remote Course

Pelvic Floor Series Capstone - Salt Lake City, UT (SOLD OUT)

Jun 5, 2020 - Jun 7, 2020
Location: Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions

Pelvic Floor Capstone - Remote Course

Jun 5, 2020 - Jun 7, 2020
Location: Replacement Remote Course

Pregnancy Rehabilitation - Remote Course (SOLD OUT)

Jun 5, 2020 - Jun 6, 2020
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Pediatric Incontinence - Grand Rapids, MI (RESCHEDULED)

Jun 5, 2020 - Jun 7, 2020
Location: Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital

Pelvic Floor Level 2A - Kansas City, MO (Rescheduled)

Jun 5, 2020 - Jun 7, 2020
Location: Centerpoint Medical Center

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Atlanta, GA (RESCHEDULED)

Jun 5, 2020 - Jun 7, 2020
Location: Emory Healthcare

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Washington, DC (Rescheduled)

Jun 5, 2020 - Jun 7, 2020
Location: The George Washington University

Pelvic Floor Level 1- Canton, OH (Rescheduled))

Jun 5, 2020 - Jun 7, 2020
Location: Aultman Hospital

Restorative Yoga for Physical Therapists - Remote Course

Jun 6, 2020 - Jun 7, 2020
Location: Short Form Remote Course

Pelvic Floor Level 1 Part 1 - Remote Course (SOLD OUT)

Jun 6, 2020 - Jun 7, 2020
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Trauma Informed Care - Remote Course

Jun 6, 2020
Location: Short Form Remote Course

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Berrien Springs, MI (Rescheduled)

Jun 7, 2020 - Jun 9, 2020
Location: Andrews University

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Bay Shore, NY (Rescheduled)

Jun 7, 2020 - Jun 9, 2020
Location: Touro College: Bayshore

Pelvic Floor Level 1 Part 1 - Remote Course

Jun 11, 2020 - Jun 12, 2020
Location: Short Form Remote Course