Active Healing Centre

Massage Therapy for Cancer patients


Massage therapy has infiltrated oncology circles, as hospitals and doctors blend alternative therapy with mainstream cancer care for the management of disease symptoms and treatment side effects.  Once an obscure therapeutic technique that cancer patients had to seek on their own, massages are now being recommended by oncologists, with more than 30 percent saying they advise patients to get them.

Do Massages Really Help?
Whether the choice is Swedish massage, Shiatsu massage or deep tissue massage, cancer patients are discovering that the warmth and relaxation generated by kneading soft body tissues are making them feel better psychologically and physically. While patients with all types of cancers from mesothelioma to lymphoma can benefit, women with breast cancer are among the most avid users. In fact, a special massage known as the manual lymphatic drainage massage (MLD) has emerged specifically as a therapy for women with cancer of the breast.

The reason massage therapy is increasingly recognized as an aid for cancer patients is because such patients often suffer great physical pain, whether from tumors, surgery or medication. In addition, doctors have found that cancer patients suffer from extreme worry and distress; this can often reduce treatment success and even dissuade patients from continuing treatment.

Some studies show that depression is four times greater in cancer patients than in others.  Besides the physical and mental anguish, cancer patients may also have trouble with circulation of blood, lymph and waste.  Massage therapy can potentially address all these concerns.

Why is Massage Effective?
During a massage, pressurized rubs and strokes are rhythmically applied to soft tissues of the body, creating surface heat and relaxing the muscles.  As a result, the blood vessels in the body dilate, which helps slow down the heart rate and boost blood circulation.  These physiological changes not only help relieve physical stress from post-operative pain or the cancer itself but also can produce calm moods and a general sense of optimism.

Since some cancer medication can cause constipation, massages that include the abdominal area can relieve that.  Full body massages can enable the lymphatic system work better and rid the body of cellular waste.

While not proven through medical studies, some oncologists believe that massages can encourage the body to produce more white blood cells, thereby boosting immunity.

Before seeking a massage, a cancer patient should get a doctor’s recommendation.  In some instances, oncologists like to consult first with massage therapists, warning them not to apply too much pressure directly on tumors or lesions.  Also, areas of the body that might have skin irritation due to radiation therapy should be avoided during a massage.

There are also some temporary side effects for cancer patients who elect to use massage therapy. In some cases, patients experience a slight increase in pain before they feel the relaxation and pain reduction. Also, some areas of the body might swell for short periods after a massage.

While massage therapy itself cannot be considered a healing treatment for cancer, it is one technique that joins the arsenal of other methods used to make patients feel better and more comfortable as they fight the disease.

Author: Melanie Bowen