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The benefits of oncology massage

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By: Sat-Siri Sumler and Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D.

Massage_cohen_edit.jpgOncology 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. 

Dr. Richard Lee, 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. 

Massage is available for MD Anderson patients and their caregivers. Visit the Integrative Medicine Center website or call (713)794-4700 to learn more.

1 Comment

A few of our friends on Facebook had this to say about this cancerwise post. www.facebook.com/mdanderson

E. Dice
Having been there, and done that, I can attest to the benefit of massage during and after cancer treatment. It relieved many of the troublesome effects and the human touch made me relax. I still get periodic massage five years later. It's like a Stay-cation!


A. Young-Hastings
I agree. Having been there and done it too, I have cried through many massages and rallied in the healing touch. What a gift some people are given to help others heal. I am so grateful!


T. Holmes
Me Too! I second everything everyone has said (that is good) about massage! I am so very grateful to the person that does my massage. She is so caring and understanding of all I have been through and am going through! I wish I could have a 50-60 massage once every week! Heck, I wish she could move in with me:P My fervent hope is that it will help my immune system get better so I can keep fighting cancer for many years to come!

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