The diagnosis of cancer can bring a great deal of anxiety and fear to the cancer patient and their caregivers.  A visit with the oncologist, radiologist and surgeon can help alleviate these fears by planning a treatment specific to their type of cancer.  But what about the rest of the body?  

There are parts of the body not affected by cancer which may still be experiencing musculoskeletal aches and pains or maybe the side effects relating to the cancer treatments such as neuropathy, fatigue, nausea, and bone pain. These can affect the patient’s quality of life. Massage has been a chosen treatment by many to help the cancer patient’s bodies cope with the sometimes unrelenting side effects and provide a space for relaxation and support.

Surviving the many challenges that a cancer diagnoses can bring is often both physically and emotionally difficult. Unfortunately, some of the side effects from cancer treatments can be just as debilitating as the cancer itself, which can further slow down the recovery and healing process.

Research has shown that massage stimulates and awakens the natural healing process of the body to restore health and well being.  It also suggests that stress-reduction programs tailored to the cancer setting may help patients cope with the side effects of treatment and improve quality of life after treatment. Patients with the following are able to receive massage but appropriate modifications such as pressure and site restrictions are necessary

    ▪    Low RBC, WBC, and platelet counts

    ▪    Peripheral neuropathy

    ▪    Radiation and chemotherapy

    ▪    Bone metastasis or osteoporosis

    ▪    Skin fragility

    ▪    Tumor or surgical sites

    ▪    Medical devices

    ▪    Risk of DVT

    ▪    Risk of Lymphedema if nodes have been removed or radiated

Massage for a cancer patient needs to be adapted to ensure that we “First , do no harm;" This means focusing on respecting the limits of a body that may already be stressed by the disease and its treatments. An oncology massage will honor the body’s healing process by adapting pressure levels and the length of the massage so as not to re-traumatize the body with too much or too deep work.


Is massage safe when you have cancer?

Massage for cancer patients performed by a massage therapist trained in oncology massage is considered safe.  They are knowledgeable in the complications that can arise from cancer treatments and are therefore able to adapt the massage session accordingly during chemotherapy, radiation and pre/post surgery.


What is oncology massage?

Oncology massage is bodywork that has been specifically adapted to meet the needs of the cancer patient, taking into consideration the levels of pain, fatigue, decline in blood counts, neuropathy, lymphedema risks and the emotional and mental impact the cancer journey has on the patient. On an emotional level  it can provide the patient with a sense of comforting touch which can help to restore confidence in their perception of their body image, give them a space to be without fear or judgment and most importantly, to be treated as a whole person: mind, body and spirit. The goal of oncology massage is to enhance the patient’s natural healing abilities by providing a gentle, soothing supportive touch

As an Oncology Massage Therapist, I incorporate Aromatherapy, Reflex Touch , Acupressure, Ayurvedic oils  and warm stone therapy alongside massage to strengthen both the physical and the emotional needs of a cancer patient. A combination of these modalities can assist your body, mind and spirit in their constant pursuit of restoring you to health. By integrating Western and Eastern modalities of bodywork in order to address the symptoms of both cancer treatments and the disease, Oncology Massage Therapy can help:

    ▪    Reduce the perception of pain

    ▪    Reduce anxiety and fear

    ▪    Help control nausea and improve appetite

    ▪    Ease fatigue and assist with sleep

    ▪    Help with depression and improve mood

    ▪    Help relieve diarrhea and constipation

    ▪    Improve low blood counts

    ▪    Reduce stress and increase relaxation

    ▪    Promote blood and lymph flow

    ▪    Improve immune functions

    ▪    Break up adhesions (scars) and promote faster wound healing

    ▪    Improve range of motion and mobility

    ▪    Empower the patient in their healing process

    ▪    Help the patient regain a sense of control over his or her own treatment and body

    ▪    Help restore hope


How Will Oncology Massage Differ From Previous Massages I’ve Had?

An Oncology Massage may or may not resemble massages you enjoyed prior to your diagnosis. Such differences might include:

    ▪    A detailed intake form with your treatment history, side effects you may be experiencing, and any current concerns your physician may have.

    ▪    A shorter session and/or lighter pressure than you may be used to, particularly if you have had lymph nodes removed or irradiated, so as to avoid triggering lymphedema, or pressure adjustments due to bone involvement.

    ▪    Positioning modifications taking into account any surgical or radiation sites, any bone involvement, or any medical devices you may currently be wearing.

    ▪    Various techniques will be used to specifically address any concerns you may have this particular day. (i.e. nausea, pain, depression, fatigue, etc.)

A massage plan will be customized just for you using sound clinical judgment, and always with your needs and goals in mind during each visit and most importantly, at each session  you will be met with love, respect and a recognition of who you are and what your own healing process is.


Massage for people at risk for developing Lymphedema?

When a person is diagnosed with cancer, a biopsy or removal of lymph nodes in the area of the cancer is often performed. Anyone who has ever had lymph nodes removed, tested, biopsied or radiated from the neck, armpit or groin is at risk for developing lymphedema.  ( for further information on Lymphedema, please click here ) Oncology Massage Therapy honors  and adapts the massage session for those who either have or are at risk from developing lymphedema


Can Massage cause Metastasis?

Although some sources have expressed concern that massage may cause a dislocation of cells from a site of cancer enabling a metastasis to be set up elsewhere in the body, there have been no controlled studies or other scientific evidence reported to support this theoretical possibility…

In summary, it is our belief that GENTLE, conscious massage is not only safe, but has many demonstrated beneficial effects (e.g., enhanced well-being, decreased anxiety, nausea and fatigue.) There is no data to suggest that it causes any harm to persons with cancer.
— Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Norris Cotton Cancer Center
Gentle conscious massage will not cause cells to become metastatic. But many other conditions related to cancer and its treatment are of immediate concern when performing bodywork. When working with a patient undergoing radiation, these conditions will most often relate to the skin, scarring, gastrointestinal side effects and depressed blood counts. Occurring less often, but none-the-less very important, is the potential for lymphatic damage.
— Gayle MacDonald, Author of "Massage for People Living with Cancer"

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