Massage and Bodywork for Cancer

Living with cancer can be overwhelming physically, mentally, and spiritually. Treatment for cancer such as surgery, chemotherapy, biotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation can cause profound side effects. Traditional management of these side effects has focused on pharmacological interventions.

Recent research supports the use of integrative therapies such as massage and bodywork in the management of side effects and for the overall improvement in quality of life. Techniques such as therapeutic massage, manual lymphatic drainage, complete decongestive therapy, reflexology, craniosacral therapy, aromatherapy, and energy modalities like Reiki and polarity therapy can be very helpful.

Studies conducted on cancer patients receiving massage have concluded that massage is effective in reducing nausea, fatigue, and anxiety related to treatment. Massage has also been shown to improve relaxation, sleep, and overall quality of life. Massage may improve range of motion and can help to restore function in areas that have been scarred or damaged during surgery or radiation, as in the case of breast cancer (mastectomy, radiation, and reconstruction surgery). For breast cancer clients massage can be very effective in preventing and addressing axial cord syndrome, a very painful side effect of mastectomy surgery.

Massage techniques for those living with cancer (active treatment or survival) necessitate some modifications to be given safely. Massage therapists who work with clients with cancer must have specialized oncology training beyond that given in initial professional massage education.

Cancer treatment often involves removal of lymph nodes. This can place a person at high risk of developing a condition called lymphedema. Lymphedema is swelling in the body with a protein rich fluid. The swelling most often occurs in the arms or legs but can occur anywhere. In cancer, this condition results from removal of lymph nodes, damage to the lymph nodes from radiation, or mechanical blockage of lymph nodes from a tumor. Unlike swelling that occurs after an injury or edema from poor venous circulation, lymphedema does not typically decrease on its own. It can be a very painful and uncomfortable condition and places a person at risk of infection and other problems.

Treatment of lymphedema consists of gentle manual techniques such as manual lymphatic drainage and complete decongestive therapy. Manual Lymphatic Drainage is a very gentle modality that stimulates the lymphatic system to carry lymph back to the lymph nodes

Craniosacral therapy is a subtle manual technique that uses light touch to work deeply to release restrictions in the dural tube and is excellent at calming the nervous system.

Reflexology is a type of bodywork that is usually very well tolerated by clients with cancer. Reflexology uses specific points on the feet or hands that correlate to organs or parts of the body. This gentle therapy is

Energy work can be profound in inducing relaxation and relieving stress, anxiety, and pain. Reiki and Polarity Therapy are energy modalities that have been helpful in cancer care.