Therapeutic & Oncology Massage

Sue Spencer, CMT, NCBTMB ~ Medical Massage Therapist

Oncology Massage

An Oncology Massage Therapist will adapt for

  • fatigue and peripheral neuropathy
  • low blood cell counts or blood clots
  • bone metastases
  • radiation or surgery
  • removal of lymph nodes
  • lymphedema
  • medications and medical devices
  • late effects of treatment

Cancer patients undergo a multitude of invasive procedures and treatments. The caring touch of therapeutic massage can help a great deal. Oncology massage is a method of providing extra care to these patients, as a way of helping them cope with many symptoms. Additionally, the art and skill of compassionate listening allows the client, if they so choose, the freedom to voice whatever is on their heart and mind in a safe, confidential setting.... no matter what.

Oncology Massage
(Medical Massage for Oncology Patients)
The American Cancer Society considers oncology massage "one of the most supportive and helpful complementary therapies available" to patients and views oncology massage as helpful both physically and emotionally because "it soothes the soul and the mind".

What Is Oncology Massage?
Oncology massage is a client-specific, customized massage session designed to meet the unique and changing needs of someone in treatment for cancer or with a history of cancer treatment. A safe massage plan generally revolves around the side effects (both short- and long-term) of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. 

Oncology massage can only be provided by a massage therapist who has received training in the specifics of cancer and cancer treatment. This training is more about cancer and less about massage. When you are receiving an oncology massage, you are receiving traditional, established massage therapy techniques that have been adapted to account for your unique health situation. Typical modalities include Swedish massage, reflexology, craniosacral therapy, relaxation & stress reduction massage and manual lymph drainage for oncology patients with lymphedema. The changes that might be made to a massage that makes it an "oncology massage" can fall under any number of categories, but typically they will be related to session length, pressure, positioning and areas of specific compromise or concern like mediports, bone metastases or skin reactions to treatment. 

Is It Safe?
In the right hands, therapeutic massage is a wonderful complementary therapy. It is important for oncology patients to see a qualified oncology massage therapist who has been trained in oncology massage, as well as manual lymph drainage.

So, the short answer is, "Yes, it is safe!" Even without knowing your specific situation, I can tell you that a properly trained oncology massage therapist can provide safe and effective massage for any person at any stage of their journey: during and after treatment, in remission or cured. 

Part of a complete understanding of oncology massage involves a shift in how we define "massage". Many people think of massage as something that "has to hurt to be effective" or as something they have received, with some discomfort, after an injury or surgery. Others think of some of the more vigorous forms of massage that get the most visibility in popular media. When we are talking about massage in the oncology community it can mean anything from a very "normal" massage equally involving all of your body to very light, simple touch intended to help you reconnect with your body in a kind and healing way. When we broaden the definition of massage in this way we can easily say, "Yes, oncology massage is safe for you."

Oncology massage is available in many of the world’s leading cancer hospitals. Oncology massage training addresses the full spectrum of cancer-related issues: the physical consequences of cancer, the side effects of various treatments and the psycho-social and emotional considerations. Your therapist will adapt the massage therapy techniques to your specific needs. In the words of one patient, oncology massage is like "a vacation from cancer."

Massage will not spread cancer by stimulating the circulatory or lymphatic systems. Walking and exercise influence the circulatory and lymphatic systems in much the same way as massage and both are highly recommended. Note, however, that deep tissue work may be uncomfortable and may actually further stress the immune system, which is certainly not the effect you would want during cancer treatment.

Massage therapy cannot cure or halt cancer, but it can definitely help relieve some symptoms and some of the side effects of treatment, ease tension and stress, as well as improve the quality of life and sense of well-being. I recommend that cancer patients have a thorough discussion with their physicians regarding the therapeutic value of oncology massage as a complementary therapy to their cancer treatment.

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