Ten or twenty years ago if that question was asked, you most likely were advised to avoid any massage therapy if you had cancer. Many doctors were uninformed when it came to various touch therapies and avoided recommending what many manual therapists knew – that massage therapy could be helpful for cancer patients.
Up until recently, there were few studies that could prove the benefits of massage during cancer treatment. In the mid-2000s however, that changed and research done by the Touch Research Institute out of Miami and those sponsored by the National Institutes of Health have shown massage therapy can be helpful for those with cancer.
While some precautions must be taken and touch therapies should be avoided during certain therapeutic events (such as radiation or chemotherapy), massage has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, improve immune function, alleviate depression and help with self-image.
The important thing for you, as a cancer patient, is to openly and honestly communicate with your massage therapist. Inform him or her of your diagnosis, of any treatment you are receiving and when it was administered. Also tell them if you are experiencing any pain, itching, burning or other discomfort – whether or not it is related to your cancer or treatment. Don’t be shy or apprehensive about letting your massage therapist know if the massage itself is causing any pain or discomfort. If your massage therapist is not an active part of your oncology team, make sure they are exchanging information with your primary oncologist or care provider.
The opinion of massage therapy and how it can benefit cancer patients has changed dramatically over the past 10-15 years and now, according to the Society for Oncology Massage, there are at least 95 hospitals in 28 states and the District of Columbia incorporating oncology massage into their contemporary treatments as well as offering training. This list includes such well-known facilities as the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, several locations within the University of California Medical Centers, Johns Hopkins Breast Cancer Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
When considering a massage therapist during treatment for cancer or when in remission, look for someone who has taken continuing education courses in oncology massage or hospital based massage, or who has an affiliation with a hospital using massage therapy as an added option to traditional treatment.