Therapist getting physical with cancer
June 12, 2008 · Updated 1:17 PM
"As recently as 20 years ago, perhaps half the patients Melissa Mercogliano treats would have been dead before they ever needed her services. Even 10 years ago, the odds against surviving cancer were so great that anyone who made it three to five years after their intitial treatment would have counted their blessings and considered the resulting pain and discomfort the price of being alive.These days, so many people are beating the disease it's possible to think about improving their quality of life, too, Mercogliano said.Mercogliano opened her Center for Orthopedic and Lymphatic Physical Therapy on Mile Hill Drive in Port Orchard in May. The clinic specializes in the treatment of muscle, joint and bone injuries as well as complications from cancer surgery and treatment. A physical therapist, Mercogliano is one of only a relative handful of practitioners nationwide who concentrate on the treatment of cancer patients. The American Physical Therapy Asscociation formally recognized the specialty by establishing an oncology branch within the organization just five years ago.It's still pretty rare, Mercogliano said. As far as I know, I'm the only physical therapist on the Kitsap Peninsula doing this kind of treatment. Mercogliano uses traditional physical therapy techniques such as exercise, manual therapy, modality (including heat, electrotherapy, and ultasonic) range of motion and massage to treat a variety of physical problems associated with cancer treatment.In addition, she performs manual lymphatic drainage, a form of massage that helps combat lymphodema - the swelling in limbs caused by the buildup of lymph fluid.It's a condition that typically shows up three to five years after surgery, chemotherapy or radiation treatment, Mercogliano said. Just about the time they think they've got this thing beaten, along comes lymphodema.With massage, Mercogliano is able to drain the fluid through collateral pathways the patient's body might not naturally utilize and reduce the swelliing by 60 percent or more after 10 to 15 visits.Mercogliano, the only full-time employee at the clinic, spends 45 minutes to an hour with each patient. The lymphodema treatment techniques were developed in Germany 20 years ago but are only just now gaining popularity in this country.She became interested in the cancer treatment as an outgrowth of her specialization in orthodedics. I found that I was treating a lot of cancer patients for their scar tissue and other problems, Mercogliano said. I thought it might be nice if I could find a way to start treating them a little earlier, before the problems got worse.Mercogliano studied physical therapy at the University of Puget Sound, graduating in 1988, and is one of just 2,000 physical therapists in the country to earn her certification as an orthopedic specialist.There is no certification yet for physical therapists specializing in oncology, but there almost certainly will be soon. It's a rapidly growing field, Mercogliano said."