Massage and the Cancer Patient
For years, massage and bodywork was contraindicated for cancer patients. Massage schools, mostly fearing that bodywork could spread cancer, largely taught their students to avoid working with cancer patients. The notion is still pervasive in the bodywork community. But as the field of massage therapy matures, its knowledge base expands, and the notion that massage is contraindicated for cancer patients is changing. There are still hurdles to overcome. How massage therapy fits into traditional insurance or managed care coverage is a gray area. And old attitudes about contraindication die hard.
Massage and bodywork are increasingly important weapons in the fight against one of the most prevalent diseases in America today. Therapists seeing clients with cancer tout the many benefits: it reduces stress and relaxes patients; bolsters the immune system and helps remove toxins from the body; helps with circulation and restores energy; reduces pain and minimizes the effects of radiation and chemotherapy treatments; enhances a patient’s body awareness and allows them to direct energy toward healing; and in cancer patients who will die from the disease, it can help ease their final days and hours. Massage therapy is becoming an important arrow in the quiver of those treating cancer patients. The evidence covers a wide spectrum of massage therapists and bodyworkers. Light, relaxing massage can safely be given to people at all stages of cancer. Tumor or treatment sites should not be massaged to avoid discomfort or pressure on the affected area and underlying organs.
Some people worry that massage can spread cancer cells throughout the body via the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of vessels, organs and nodes through which lymphatic fluid (lymph) flows. It is part of the body’s immune system. Lymphatic circulation occurs naturally as we move. Cancer may spread into the lymphatic system via the lymph nodes, or it may start in the lymphatic system itself. However, the circulation of lymph – from massage or other movement – does not cause cancer to spread. Research has shown that cancer develops and spreads because of changes to a cell’s DNA (genetic mutations) and other processes in the body.
Massage may be offered to cancer patients in some hospitals and hospices. Patients can also have a massage from a private practitioner in their own practice. Patients should look for massage therapists that have undertaken specialist oncology massage training.