Oncology massage, a type of complementary treatment that may be recommended for some individuals with cancer, aims to help reduce the effects of issues related to cancer—including pain, fatigue, nausea, and anxiety—in order to improve the well-being and overall life quality of those who have cancer.
While oncology massage can be safe and beneficial for many people with cancer, this type of massage therapy should always be tailored to address the special needs resulting from the varied symptoms, treatments and side effects of cancer. Thus, oncology massage techniques tend to be highly individualized.
What Is Oncology Massage?
Oncology massage has been shown to have a positive impact as a supplemental approach to treatment for many individuals with cancer. This approach to massage therapy is typically very gentle and usually begins with a thorough interview in which the massage therapist takes a complete history of the person’s history with cancer, treatment prognosis, and desired outcomes (pain relief, relaxation, and so on. Otherwise, there are few universal rules for performing oncology massage. Overall, it emphasizes the comfort of those seeking treatment and may provide some relief from the symptoms and effects of cancer.
People with a history of cancer may benefit from massage therapy in a number of ways, but it is important for therapists to make the necessary adjustments to account for the individual circumstances of each client. Thus, an in-depth interview is generally necessary before the first session of massage therapy. Questions should continue throughout the session, especially in relation to signs of discomfort, and a post-massage discussion is generally also ideal so that future sessions can be further personalized.
Therapists are also likely to take into account psychosocial elements of treatment, due to the range of effects cancer is likely to have on a person’s life, and compassion is a key part of any oncology massage.
Personalized oncology massages are designed to account for recent treatments, the location of any tumors, the presence of chemotherapy ports, lymph node status, blood clot risks, fragile tissues, prognosis and other similar factors. Massage therapists may find it best to pursue collaboration with the recipient’s doctor(s) whenever possible, as clients may not be aware of the impact some aspects of their condition or treatment may have on their massage therapy.
How Can Oncology Massage Help?
Evidence suggests oncology massage can promote a higher quality of life. Some benefits, such as deep relaxation, improved mental clarity, better sleep, stress reduction and lessened pain, are related to the massage itself. People who have recently had cancer-related surgery may experience an easier recovery from the effects of anesthesia, post-surgical pain, diminished mobility, and swelling. Oncology massage after chemotherapy or radiation has also been linked with reduced fatigue and heightened appetite.
Oncology massage can also have emotional benefits. These may include lessened anxiety about the future and a restored or strengthened sense of hope.
Oncology Massage Precautions
Therapists who are working with people who have a history of cancer are advised to take several precautions. First, they must always establish and retain an awareness that oncology massage is not meant to “fix” anything. Focus is instead placed on providing comfort and support to those with cancer.
The presence of a chemotherapy port must also be noted, as a radius of 4-inches surrounding the site will need to be avoided during the massage. Chemotherapy can also result in complications related to fatigue, so it is recommended therapists wait at least one full day after the client has received a chemo treatment before performing oncology massages. People receiving chemo may also experience an increased sensitivity to coldness, so warm blankets should always be offered.
Finally, preliminary discussions with the recipient and their doctor(s) should be performed before the first therapy session in order to identify and discuss any restrictions that may require additional precautionary measures.
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- Myers, C. D., Walton, T., & Small, B. J. (2008). The value of massage therapy in cancer care. Hematology/Oncology Clinics of North America, 22(4), 649-660. Retrieved from http://cincinnati.vc.ons.org/file_depot/0-10000000/0-10000/6741/associatedFiles/$231+Value_of_Massage_Therapy_in_Cancer_Care_2008.pdf
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