Oncology (Cancer) Massage: Busting the myths

Cancer. Probably the scariest 6 letter word for anyone to hear. Cancer impacts most people at some point in their lives. Whether it’s a friend, a coworker, a family member or yourself, there’s a high likelihood that you know someone who has had or will have cancer.

A big part of the cancer experience is the feeling of helplessness; not knowing what to do, how to help or what the options are. Mixed in with all of this are the myths and perceived ideas of what can and cannot be done during cancer treatment. It’s confusing, unhelpful and stressful. Massage therapy has been one such subject of controversy and myth.

Photograph of Ella Proven, Sports Massage Therapist at Bridge Health and Wellbeing, Christchurch, Dorset

“Many people believe that massage is contraindicated when cancer is involved.” says our remedial massage therapist, Ella Proven. “I’m here to clear things up for you. Because although massage is not going to cure cancer, it can be an incredibly powerful tool to help someone through this traumatic time.

Myth #1: Massage will spread cancer

Massage treatments will not spread cancer. There is no research to suggest that the techniques used in massage will move cancerous cells around the body. Malignant tumours are not easily broken and individual cancer cells are not strong enough to survive your immune system, even if they have broken off the main tumour.

That being said, your therapist will only work on areas that you are comfortable with and in a way that feels safe to you.

Qualified therapists will avoid direct pressure to tumours or unidentified lumps on the body. They will also avoid any areas that may have been damaged during cancer treatments, such as areas where lymph nodes have been removed or radiation burn sites.

Myth #2: You can’t have treatment whilst having radiation or chemotherapy

A massage therapist won’t come into the hospital to treat you while you’re getting radiation or chemotherapy. But they can treat you in between sessions.

During a radiation therapy protocol, the primary goal of a massage therapist is to help with symptom relief. We can also help with emotionally-based symptoms (ie. anxiety, depression) and help normalise tissue sense. The focus is on relaxation techniques and avoiding on-site treatment. This means avoiding positioning or techniques that could pressure weakened tissue. Treatments may be shorter, as many patients tend to fatigue easily.

During a chemotherapy protocol, the primary goal of massage is to help with symptom relief, both physical and emotional. It can also assist with sleep as well as maintain range of motion and scar tissue. “Regular” massage will be avoided for 2-3 days after receiving chemotherapy. This is because it can speed up the metabolisation of the chemical and make you feel sicker. Chemotherapy can have drastic effects on the body, so it’s important to work with your therapist to adapt the treatment plan to the ups and downs of the chemo cycle. People generally bounce back more slowly from a chemo session later in the protocol, so it may be longer than 3 days before you feel up to treatment.

Myth #3: There’s no point in getting massage, it won’t do anything

It is true that massage will not cure cancer, reduce tumour size or reduce malignancy. But it can be very beneficial for dealing with the symptoms and the stress involved with cancer.

First of all, massage treatments have been shown to improve immune function via stress reduction. This can help reduce the chance of other infections. It can help the body recover from radiation and chemotherapy treatments and dampen cortisol (the stress hormone).

Secondly, massage therapy can improve sleep and reduce pain levels. It can be additionally useful during the treatment recovery phases, to reduce the pain and symptoms associated with treatment.

Lastly, soft tissue techniques can be used to improve post-surgical scars. Treatment beginning within a month (typically at two weeks) of scar formation can improve the overall look of a scar. It can also improve the movement and range of motion of the tissues.”

A complementary therapy

These days, many people are incorporating complementary and alternative therapies into their conventional cancer treatment. Massage therapy may not be the answer for everybody, but it has been shown to be effective in helping manage treatment symptoms, reduce pain and help improve sleep. Helping someone in any of those areas, even slightly, could be monumental for someone suffering from cancer and the effects of cancer treatment.

All of the massage therapists here at Bridge Health & Wellbeing are trained and confident in working with Oncology patients. If you or someone you know may benefit from regular massage, please do not hesitate to contact us on 01202 473800 or email info@bridgehw.com.

Photograph of Ella Proven, Sports Massage Therapist at Bridge Health and Wellbeing, Christchurch, Dorset

Ella Provan is an experienced Remedial Massage Therapist. She began her career with a four-year bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Toronto, going on to complete a diploma in Massage Therapy. Her experiences include working within a chiropractic clinic, a women’s hospital and private massage therapy clinics. She tailors her treatments to meet the needs and goals of each client. Her goal is for clients to walk away from their session with greater knowledge of their bodies, enabling them to continue their rehab and change everyday habits.

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