Can I still get a massage if I have cancer?
Photo by Josh Adamski on Unsplash
Not so long ago massage was usually denied to clients with cancer as it was believed that this modality could cause the cancer to spread. Thankfully, nowadays we know better, and although the types of massage available to cancer patients are limited, we no longer need to deny them the many benefits that touch therapy has to offer.
The reason the choice of massage is more limited is because the therapist needs to adjust his strokes to take into account the different cancer treatments the client may be undergoing, and their potential side effects. The therapist will use a lighter touch when treating someone with cancer. They should be trained in oncology massage and aware of the discomfort that can be caused by invasive treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. Oncology massage is very much complementary to these treatments. It does not treat the cancer itself, but rather helps the client manage the common side effects of conventional medicine, namely fatigue, nausea, anxiety, stress, and pain.
Assisting the relaxation process can help the body to heal, assist with mental strain, reduce discomfort, aid sleep, and generally improve quality of life. This is why the goal of oncology massage is relaxation. The therapist won’t be working deep into the tissues or releasing trigger points. They will work more superficially to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system – the system that brings the body back into balance after times of stress. Even recovered cancer patients are not advised to receive deep tissue massage. This is because even long after the treatment has ended, tissues can still hold residual side effects from the damage they sustained. Lymph nodes may have been removed, placing the client at lifelong risk of lymphoedema, which could be triggered by deep tissue work. Furthermore deeper pressures are known to trigger an inflammatory response and inflammatory cells can further degrade tissue. This is why it’s important to give full details of your cancer treatment to your therapist.
Don’t underestimate the power of gentle touch though. Relaxation massage is a wonderful thing. Even simple, sustained contact can be comforting and reduce tension. If you want to book an oncology massage there are a few things to do prior to picking up the phone. First, let your doctor or oncologist know that you intend to get a massage and obtain their written permission to do so. This may be required by the therapist on the day, so obtaining permission in advance is a good way of avoiding disappointment. Next, make a note of any medication you are taking and its purpose. The therapist will ask for this information, as well as any side effects it causes. When the therapist takes your health history you will also need to give details about your cancer treatment, such as dates of surgery and any other pertinent information.
On the day the therapist will do everything he can to make sure you are positioned comfortably. He will want to know if anything is painful, or if you are unable to lie on your front due to surgery or medical devices for example. Give lots of feedback about comfort. It’s hard to relax if you’re uncomfortable. Ask for extra pillows if you need to. Most importantly though, enjoy the experience.