Benefits and appropriateness of massage for cancer patients depends on the phase of treatment and the type of massage utilized.
Years ago, massage therapists were instructed never to massage anyone undergoing cancer treatment. The fear was based on the belief that stimulation from the massage could cause the cancer to spread through the body. These days, however, massage no longer represents an automatic prohibition for cancer patients.
During phases of certain treatments for cancer, only particular types of massage are appropriate. For example, during radiation therapy, the use of oils and other lubricants should be avoided during massage. Certain types of deep tissue massages may not be appropriate for cancer patients recovering from treatment. For example, after radiation therapy, the skin in the affected area may be too sensitive to tolerate deep tissue massage. Furthermore, breast cancer patients who have suffered from lymphedema should never have deep tissue massage performed under the arm or other affected area. Numerous cases have been reported where lymphedema returned, following a session of vigorous massage.
However, many other types of massage techniques have proven wonderfully effective in helping reduce pain and nausea and increasing the overall well-being of cancer patients. Even the American Cancer Society (ACS) acknowledges the benefits of massage for cancer patients. In fact, posted on the ACS website is the following comment on massage: “Everything surrounding massage therapy — a soothing environment, human touch which is essential to life, a caring therapist, the comfort of prolonged attention, relaxed muscles — combine to make massage one of the most supportive and helpful complementary therapies available.”
Be sure that you discuss any plans for massage therapy ahead of time with your oncologist. Additionally, you should only work with a massage therapist who has had experience treating cancer patients.
Massage is one of the most beneficial alternative therapies that cancer patients can add to their treatment regimen. Touch can help you participate in your own healing, relax your back that has been stretched out too long on a cold metal clinic table, restore hope, and remind you that you are lovable.