Oncology massage is the modification of existing massage therapy techniques in order to safely work with complications of cancer and cancer treatment. Anyone who has ever received cancer treatment, from those in active treatment to those in recovery or survivorship, as well as those at the end of life, are best served by a massage therapist who has received training in oncology massage.
Essential aspects of an oncology massage therapist's skill set are an informed understanding of the disease itself and the many ways it can affect the human body; the side effects of cancer treatments, such as medications, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation; and the ability to modify massage techniques in order to adapt for these side effects, as well as for the disease.
ONCOLOGY MASSAGE ASSESSMENTS
Clinical assessments and adaptations to the massage session for someone experiencing cancer or with a history of cancer treatment are critical to providing a safe massage. Standard oncology massage intake questions include those pertaining to:
cancer treatment history
tumor site or metastasis
compromised blood cell counts
lymph node involvement
blood clots or blood clot risk
medications (short and long term)
vital organ involvement
fragile or unstable tissue
fatigue, neuropathy or pain
changes in sensation
late effects of treatment
A properly trained massage therapist will ask questions about these issues and more, depending on your unique situation. Many of the changes that will be made to your session will be virtually imperceptible to you as a recipient (and others may be quite obvious), but they are essential to safety and proper support of your well being.
The benefits of oncology massage
Oncology massage is an approach to massage therapy based in both compassion and specialized massage treatments to help people manage their experience with cancer.
Review of the scientific literature indicates oncology massage helps improve quality of life. Benefits include improved relaxation, sleep, and immune function as well as relieving anxiety, pain, fatigue and nausea. Oncology massage therapists are trained to meet people where they are in their experience with cancer and apply a highly individualized massage treatment to comfort, nurture and support them in their process.
The treatments are modified according to the full spectrum of cancer-related issues: the physical, psycho-social and emotional consequences of cancer. In addition, the person's individual goals are considered and aspects of the disease and cancer treatment side effects.
Personal goals for receiving oncology massage can include the desire for a respite -- a relaxing pleasurable experience in the midst of everything that is going on -- relieving nausea or other symptoms such as pain or peripheral neuropathy and helping them get though the remainder of their cancer treatments.
"Getting massage from someone who understands everything that is going on, is part of my healing process".
In the past, therapists thought massage would increase circulation and therefore cause cancer to spread. The process of metastasis is very complicated and poorly understood; however increased circulation is not considered a significant part of that process by itself.
However, it's true that cancer and cancer treatments can put people at risk for complications from massage, so it is important to take some precautions. Because of the different contraindications for massage in this population, it is very important for the massage therapist who is treating a person with a history of cancer - either currently or in the past - to have specialized training in oncology massage, in addition to being a licensed massage therapist.