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The benefits of oncology massage

Oncology massage is an approach to massage therapy based in both compassion and specialized massage treatments to help people manage their experience with cancer.

Review of the scientific literature indicates oncology massage helps improve quality of life. Benefits include improved relaxation, sleep, and immune function as well as relieving anxiety, pain, fatigue and nausea. Oncology massage therapists are trained to meet people where they are in their experience with cancer and apply a highly individualized massage treatment to comfort, nurture and support them in their process.

The treatments are modified according to the full spectrum of cancer-related issues: the physical, psycho-social and emotional consequences of cancer. In addition, the person’s individual goals are considered and aspects of the disease and cancer treatment side effects.

Personal goals for receiving oncology massage can include the desire for a respite — a relaxing pleasurable experience in the midst of everything that is going on — relieving nausea or other symptoms such as pain or peripheral neuropathy and helping them get though the remainder of their cancer treatments.

“Getting massage from someone who understands everything that is going on, is part of my healing process”, reports Tom, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer almost three years ago and receives massage therapy at the Integrative Medicine Center. In the past, therapists thought massage would increase circulation and therefore cause cancer to spread.

The process of metastasis is very complicated and poorly understood; however increased circulation is not considered a significant part of that process by itself.

However, it’s true that cancer and cancer treatments can put people at risk for complications from massage, so it is important to take some precautions. Because of the different contraindications for massage in this population, it is very important for the massage therapist who is treating a person with a history of cancer – either currently or in the past – to have specialized training in oncology massage, in addition to being a licensed massage therapist.

Richard Lee, M.D., clinical medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson, explains, “Massage performed with this appropriate knowledge and training can be safely done to help cancer patients.” No matter where you are in your journey with cancer, oncology massage can help.