The Oncology Care Team
Occupational Therapy

Oncology Occupational Therapists


Cancer survivors face physical, cognitive, psychosocial and spiritual issues that can affect their quality of life.  The following symptoms are those commonly encountered by occupational therapists in their work with people with cancer:

  • Pain

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea/vomiting/sore mouth/dysphagia

  • Constipation/diarrhea/urinary problems

  • Breathlessness and cough

  • Insomnia

  • Skin Integrity and pressure problems

  • Weight loss

  • Neurological problems

  • Cognitive deficits

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Fluid retention

  • Body image [1]



Even if pain is well controlled, deficits in the ability of the person living with cancer to perform activities of daily living (self-care, productivity and/or leisure) may limit the cancer patient’s sense of independence and quality of life [2].  Because people with cancer can experience very rapid changes in their illness and care setting, occupational therapists working with these people need to be responsive to the changing need [1]


Occupational Therapy is a rehabilitation discipline that promotes health through enabling occupation.  Occupation consists of a balance between the three areas of self-care, productivity and leisure.  An Occupational Therapist works with anyone who is having difficulty doing activities that are important to them.  They are health care professionals currently graduating with a Master’s degree and provincially regulated by the College of Occupational Therapists (COTO).



Qualified Occupational Therapists have:


  • Graduated from an accredited university program.

  • Successfully completed a minimum of 1000 hours of fieldwork education.

  • Successfully passed the certification examination administered by the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists (CAOT), or met provincial registration qualifications.



In general, Occupational Therapists are trained to take on a holistic and patient/client-centered approach to care.  In cancer care, the occupational therapist may: 


  • Assess the impact of pain/fatigue/shortness of breath on self-care, productivity, leisure activities and social roles.

  • Work with the person and family/care givers to adapt and practice self-care, work, leisure activities and social roles within the person’s functional abilities and pain levels.

  • Collaborate with the person about energy conservation techniques.

  • Assess whether equipment and environmental adaptation are needed to meet the person’s needs (for example, equipment for the bathroom, wheelchair etc.).

  • Liaise with community and support services.

  • Teach relaxation techniques.

  • Advise on posture, pressure relief, appropriate seating.

  • Address the difficulties of meal/drink preparation and explore alternatives (for example, using ready made meals to avoid long cooking times and cooking smells).

  • Assess and analyze risks to the person’s safety.

  • Provide splinting for hands and neuropathies.

  • Assess the person’s cognition.

  • Help the person and their family/caregivers use memory aids.

  • Help facilitate return to work.

  • Collaborate with members of the oncology team to assist with discharge planning by recommending community supports, equipment and follow-up OT services. [1]




Occupational Therapy Links and Resources


Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, CAOT


Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists, OSOT


The College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario, COTO




1. Crompton, S. (2004). Occupational Therapy intervention in cancer-guidance for professionals, managers and decision makers, retrieved June 23, 2008 from

2. Nusbaum, N.J. Rehabilitation and the older cancer patient. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences. 2004;327(2), p.86-90.

All references for this section