Does oncology massage benefit patients suffering from cancer?
For decades, cancer was considered an absolute contraindication for massage. This was based on the belief that massage raises circulation and that the increased circulation would speed up the spread of cancer. However, genetic and biochemical research reveals to us that metastasis does not depend on the rate of blood flow. Metastasis is only complete when cancer cells leave circulation, plant, and form new lesions in new tissues. Implantation is a function of tissue affinity between cancer cells and the new tissue site. The massage therapy community uses this information to explain with fair reasoning that implantation is not a mechanical process.
For oncology massage, massage adjustments are based on client’s presentation. Cancer presents differently in different people. Your therapist is trained to consider treatments, their side effects, and you. Oncology massage is mindful of contact with skin, lubricant, pressure, joint movement, friction, positioning, draping, speed, rhythm, session length, timing, and session intent.
Massage is offered to patients to decrease anxiety and stress. It may help to reduce treatment side effects such as nausea, fatigue, vomiting, and constipation. Massage is a benefit to a patient’s overall well-being in giving a sense of normalcy during a stressful period.
It has been with my experience that the main purpose for massage with cancer patients is to relieve stress. Some clients have moved almost seamlessly through treatment while others felt treatment side effects strongly. Clients that do well in maintaining an active life during treatment, I often hear the request for more pressure. While it’s tempting to give, I continue to work on the side of caution. Massage has the capacity to exacerbate side effects, even silent ones. To keep people comfortable and maintain safety, I don’t practice “deep” massage on clients going through treatment.
I don’t hear the request often, though. Stress relief seems to be enough. The gentle touch and slow pace of the massage puts the mind to rest, which can be difficult to do even on the best of days. My intent is to give a person a moment to escape and be at ease with his or herself. The level of relaxation a person receives gives them such a glow. I can see it on their face as soon as the massage is over and I’m handing them a glass of water. There’s happiness in taking a break from all the doctors, the tests, and the medical jargon. To have a moment to be still is a beautiful thing.