BREAST CANCER: Cancer coaches to coordinate post-surgery rehabilitation is the newest move towards helping women to recover.
BREAST CANCER: Cancer coaches to coordinate post-surgery rehabilitation is the newest move towards helping women to recover. AdamGregor

New thinking on breast cancer complementary treatments

CANCER coaches, which the new thinking in for health professionals supporting cancer sufferers, are starting to operate overseas, but in Australia it's a service that hasn't taken off yet.

"Cancer coaching is new terminology and it's probably where we will be heading in the future," occupational therapist Denise Stewart, from Breast and Shoulder, said.

"It's only in the last few years that this has started to come into practice."

In America the concept of cancer coaches, who develop and oversee individualised rehabilitation programs, is gaining momentum.

But in Australia, because the focus has been on helping people to survive breast cancer, rehabilitation has stayed under the radar Ms Stewart said.

"There has always been a medical plan, but there hasn't been a rehab and recovery plan," Ms Stewart said.

Breast cancer patients have previously been offered look good and feel good post-surgery options, but no structure has been developed around ensuring they are rehabilitating well.

She is now arguing patients need a structured rehabilitation and recovery model that uses appropriately trained professionals in the role of a cancer coach.


BREAST CANCER: Occupational Therapist Denise Stewart
BREAST CANCER: Occupational Therapist Denise Stewart

Ms Stewart also argues that due to the complexity of the surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, health professionals should receive training that covers those issues.

"At the moment it's being offered as post-graduate training run by private providers," she said.

While rehabilitation programs remain unstructured and their responsibility floating somewhere between the oncologist and the surgeon, many patients are using a peer-support model, not a rehab and recovery model.

This often means patients are using therapists for services such as massage, acupuncture, hypnosis, yoga, pilates, reiki and more, that have been suggested to them by a friend or family member, and that doesn't necessarily mean the service is the right one for the patient or the recommended therapist knows enough about breast cancer to properly assist a survivor.

"It's not being spoken about or attended to," a frustrated Ms Stewart added.

The current answer to this quandary is go online to find a coach to help put a patient-centric program together. is one of the first of the online services in Australia where a patient can search in their area for a health professional who can act as a cancer coach.

Other free online resources are the Australian Survivorship Centre and