What is Oncology Massage?

Updated: Jan 3

Oncology Massage is a very specialized form of massage therapy for People with Cancer. Cancer is not just one disease, but it is many different diseases that scientists and doctors are still looking to cure. Massage can make your cancer journey easier...but not just any massage, an oncology massage. Many of the body's responses to cancer and cancer treatment require adjustments to massage therapy. Anyone that has cancer may not always realize that getting a massage throughout their treatment can help reduce and ease many of the side effects they may experience.




Many cancer patients may not know that they can have massage during the extent of their treatments. If you are currently receiving treatment or have ever received treatment for cancer in your life the safest way for you to get massage is to find a massage therapist who has appropriate training in the specifics of cancer and cancer treatment and how to use that knowledge to provide safely adapted massage therapy for people at all stages of the cancer journey.

When a therapist gives a massage to an Oncology patient who is undergoing active treatments, they must be mindful of a number of things. Do they have a Port, a Pic-line, a drain, a colostomy bag, feeding tube, recent surgical incisions, radiation burns, neuropathy, whether or not the patient is on blood thinners, and do they suffer from fatigue, nausea, pain, anxiety, stress, loss of hair? These are just a few of the things that a massage therapist must take into consideration when working on an oncology patient.


A Port is something that is implanted just under the skin just below the collarbone to allow the patient to be given chemotherapy for an extended length of time. A massage therapist must be aware of different access points and adjust the way they work and also how they may bolster to protect the port or pic line from being compromised during the massage treatment.



Pressure is also very important during an oncology massage. On a scale of 1-5 the pressure should be 1, 2 or 3 depending on what the patient is experiencing at the time of the massage. One suffering from fatigue should have a much lighter pressure than one who has been out of treatment for a year or more. Those that have completed their treatments and are in survivorship mode may receive a little more pressure but always to the patient’s comfort level. If a therapist uses too much pressure on a patient, they can cause more harm to the patient such as fracturing a bone. The first and greatest rule is to “DO NO HARM” to the patient. If a patient has metastatic cancer – cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, the therapist must be mindful of the pressure and any special bolstering that will make the patient as comfortable as possible.



Some of the possible benefits of bodywork for cancer patients are:


  • Relieves soreness due to prolonged bedrest

  • Increases relaxation

  • Improves sleep

  • Decreases edema and lymphedema

  • Provides pain relief and reduces the need for pain medication

  • Stimulates faster wound healing

  • Breaks up adhesions associated with scarring

  • Decreases anxiety and depression and stress

  • Provides relief of touch deprivation

  • Increases circulation. Lymphatic flow is stimulated which helps in the elimination of waste products

  • Encourages bowel activity

  • Decreases symptoms related to chemo and radiation, such as fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, and loss of appetite

  • Increases elasticity to scarred areas

And more…


When searching for a qualified oncology massage therapist do not be afraid to ask about their qualifications, where they got their training, how long have they been working on cancer patients, what type of massage modifications will they make during your session for your particular cancer and current treatment if any. If a therapist is not willing to provide you with this information, RUN AWAY! They probably don’t have the proper training to work on you.


References:

Medicine Hands-Massage Therapy for People with Cancer, Gayle MacDonald, MS, LMT, Findhorn Press, 2007, http://www.medicinehands.com/, (Latest edition of book can be found on Amazon)

Society for Oncology Massage, www.s4om.org

“Is Your Therapist Trained”, article by Charlotte M. Versagi,

Massage Therapy Pressure Scale, Tracy Walton and Associates, https://www.tracywalton.com/

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, https://www.mskcc.org/

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