Is Massage Therapy an Appropriate Cancer Therapy?

by Terry McDermott
Massage and Cancer Treatment

Cancer treatment usually includes complex medical intervention, but there is also a place for massage therapy in the treatment plan. Whether it is used to address pain or nausea, to give relaxation and comfort, or even to boost the immune system, incorporating massage therapy into cancer treatment can give the person suffering from cancer additional help in the fight against this disease.

How Massage is Used in Cancer Treatment

Massage for cancer patients, or oncology massage, is rapidly gaining a following. As massage builds growing scientific evidence for its provision of measurable health benefits, many people with cancer are seeking massage therapy in addition to standard cancer treatment. Before working on any client, however, it is important to be sure that massage therapy for the cancer patient has been approved by his or her physician.

Massage therapy for cancer patients isn’t a “one treatment fits all” affair. Many people with cancer look fit and healthy, while others may be weak or in pain. Some patients are approaching the end of their lives, while others are expecting to make a full recovery. Because of this, it is important to work out a plan for the massage therapy for the cancer patient that is even more individualized than a therapist might develop for healthier patients. It is also important to ask the client at each session if anything has changed, and to stay attuned to his or her need for less touch, more touch, or a change in therapeutic treatment.

Massage Benefits for Cancer Patients

Oftentimes, cancer and cancer treatments can cause pain and nausea. Massage for cancer patients has been shown to help reduce pain as well as to help reduce nausea levels. The therapy also boosts serotonin levels, which can help with the higher rates of depression common in cancer patients.

In addition to the illness itself, cancer often robs people of their sense of control and can contribute to a negative body image. Regular oncology massage for people with cancer has been shown to give them a treatment to look forward to, as well as an experience that can help improve body image and outlook. While cancer cannot be treated through massage therapy alone, regular massage can help to reduce the side effects of treating the disease in many clients.

Concerns About Massage and Cancer Patients

There is a longstanding myth that massage for cancer patients can actually spread the cancer to other places in the body. Fortunately, this has been proven incorrect. While massaging a tumor itself is never a good idea, there are many other cancer-free areas of the body that will benefit from oncology massage.

In general, massage should be light and focus more on the holistic health of the client. Tumors should not be massaged, as they may be tender or may press on internal organs and structures, and this could damage the client’s health.

Some cancer treatments can weaken the body, however, so massage therapy for cancer patients should be done carefully. Bones may be brittle, and areas where tissue has been removed may be a source of pain or tenderness for quite some time. Other cancer treatments may cause nerve damage, and these areas should always be massaged with a light hand.

There are some important considerations that a therapist should keep in mind, as well. A person with cancer may be in any stage of sickness, and it is important to understand how the client is feeling, as well as where he or she may be weak or sore, before initiating the massage. The client may have an IV line, radiation burns, or other weak points on his or her body that may require creative maneuvering in order to provide safe oncology massage therapy.

Massage and Mainstream Cancer Treatment

While no doctor will prescribe oncology massage instead of medical treatment, more and more physicians are beginning to understand the tremendous benefit that massage therapy for cancer patients can provide. Massage is recognized for its ability to elevate the mood, to ease tension, fatigue, and pain, and also to help reduce the side effects of nausea in many cancer patients. Even health professionals who do not believe massage has physical benefits will often accept their patients’ wishes to receive massage therapy, knowing that it gives the patient a comforting, pleasurable experience to look forward to in what can be a grim regimen of treatment.

In recent years, modern studies have shown that massage for cancer patients can impact recovery results. In order to keep the massage safe, however, many doctors recommend that their patients see therapists who have been trained in oncology massage. Since massage therapy for cancer patients can cause damage if done incorrectly, proper training is key.

Massage therapy has a wide variety of benefits, and one of the most rewarding of these is massage therapy for cancer patients. By helping to relieve pain and discomfort, as well as to provide comfort and mental wellness, massage can be an important element of treatment for people with cancer.

Terry McDermott is the co-administrator of Massage Schools Guide, a leading online directory of massage therapy schools throughout the United States.

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