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What is Oncology Massage?

Oncology Massage is specially adapted to be safe and beneficial for cancer patients & cancer survivors. It can help:

  • Relieve pain
  • Improve nausea
  • Lessen fatigue
  • Soothe anxiety
  • Ease depression

Can people with cancer get massages? Yes. Photo of woman with hair loss, on massage table. Photo of therapist massaging woman's hand.

Research studies suggest that massage can help cancer patients to deal with side effects from chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments.

And my clients tell me that their massage was just what they needed!

What is the best massage for cancer patients?

Your best massage will be unique and personalized! Let’s talk about these factors:

  • Your activities & energy level
  • Any medical devices that you have, such as a port
  • Any lymph nodes that have been removed
  • Side effects that you are experiencing
  • and more. Please feel free to express your concerns and questions!

Most clients find that the modifications & adjustments make their oncology massage session beneficial and helpful, even if it’s different from their usual massage style.

You want to choose a massage therapist who’s taken specialized training

When you’ve had a cancer diagnosis, you want to go to a massage therapist who has learned about ways to modify your massage (and what questions they need to ask you).

(Although I’ve worked with newly-minted talented LMTs who gave excellent massages, entry-level school programs don’t necessarily provide oncology training — further education is important.)

What is the best massage for cancer patients? Society for Oncology Massage logo

As a Preferred Practitioner with the Society for Oncology Massage, I’m grateful to have taken classes with well-respected instructors who are pioneers in the field.

And whenever possible, I take additional training classes, watch webinars (such as this one from the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship) and read articles about advances in cancer care. We’re constantly adding new research and learning more.

check out these additional cancer resources

You want your therapist to ask lots of questions about the cancer

Some of the questions I’ll ask you, may seem surprising.  But I’m not just being nosy — your answers make a big difference! Together, we can plan your massage session so that it’s the best and most beneficial for you.

You’re unique, and your massage should be adapted so that it’s helpful for your unique circumstances.

For example: it’s important for us to talk about your treatments, where the cancer is (or was) located, any medical devices, any side effects that you’re experiencing, and any medications you’re taking.

Some treatments require lifelong adjustments for your massages

I love this article about why oncology massage is special and different. Gayle MacDonald, a pioneer in oncology massage and author of Medicine Hands, says that we are touching clients with hands of peace. We’re whispering to the body, rather than shouting at it.

And from my perspective as the therapist, I can be more confident that I’m working with you safely and responsibly. For example, there are some modifications that are always going to be important if you’ve had any lymph nodes treated with radiation or surgery.

If you’ve completed active treatment such as chemo, surgery, or radiation, we will talk about it and make adjustments. No worries, though — you can still enjoy a great massage.

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We can work together to make a massage care plan

I can create a care plan for you, describing what goals we can set for your massages; how often you may want to get massage therapy; and what modifications we can make to ensure your sessions are as beneficial as possible.

If you like, you can share this plan with your physician or other provider.

What is the best massage for cancer patients? Linda Boyer is a Preferred Practitioner with the Society for Oncology Massage.

Here are a few things that people frequently want to know about Oncology Massage:

Q: How is oncology massage different from ‘normal’ massage?

That’s a good question. With oncology massage, my main focus is on helping you with your symptoms and side effects… and some symptoms can linger for a long time after treatment. Massage therapy can be so beneficial for pain relief, anxiety, and more.

I’ll make adjustments for the pressure, and some other relevant factors. I’ll ask you questions about your cancer treatment & side effects, so that the massage can help ease those. Please keep me posted on how you felt after your last session, and we can modify things for your next appointment.

Oncology massage takes into consideration if your vital organs have been affected by the cancer. Also, we’ll take precautions if you have a risk of lymphedema.

Even if you’ve been accustomed to a different style of massage, most people find that oncology massage is relaxing and helps them to feel better!

Q: I heard that massage could spread cancer. Is that true?

You know, when I was in massage school in 2001, that was what we were told.

A lot of people believed that massage would increase your circulation, and so they figured that massage would cause the tumors to spread. We were taught at that time that we could not work with someone who has cancer.

Fortunately, research has since told us that cancer spread (or metastasis) is due to many other complex biological factors (such as tissue affinity). It is not an outcome of increased circulation. (And the jury is still out on whether massage increases circulation, besides.)

Oncologists frequently are recommending exercise and movement, during treatment — depending on how well your body tolerates physical activity. And many excellent hospitals & cancer treatment centers (such as MD Anderson in Texas, Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, and Duke University, to name a few!) are offering massage therapy to their patients.

I’ll definitely make informed adjustments with your massage, and I won’t massage directly over a tumor site, but cancer is no longer considered an absolute contraindication for massages.

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Q: How can massage help people with cancer?

I can help my clients in several ways. Massage research suggests that massage can reduce anxiety, help with nausea, mitigate pain, help with fatigue, and improve depression. These symptoms are some of the most common issues that you may be dealing with.

And also, massages can help my clients to feel relaxed and sleep better; sleep is often disrupted when you are in treatment. And another benefit is to provide my clients with safe, gentle, non-clinical touch. That’s huge when you are in the midst of treatment.

Q: Isn’t any kind of massage OK for cancer patients if you just work lightly?

Although it is very important for your massage therapist to use pressure that’s appropriate for your situation, there are other considerations too.

That’s why — whether you book your massage with me, or with someone else — you’ll want to choose someone who’s had oncology massage training.

Q: What about COVID and massage therapy?

To protect everyone who comes into my office as much as possible, I’m wearing a KN95 mask; running a HEPA air purifier; and taking other COVID precautions. You can read about my COVID protocols here.

At this time, masks are still required to help keep everybody in my office safer, especially since many of my clients are immunocompromised.

My own experience going through cancer

I’ll never say that “I know how you feel,” because everyone’s situation is unique. But I can relate to some of the things my oncology massage clients have gone through.

I was diagnosed with melanoma in April 2014, and had surgeries and chemo. I’ve also had basal cell carcinoma since then. It’s been life-changing.

Do you have more questions about Oncology Massage Therapy? Check out these links below, or contact me and I’ll be glad to help. When you come in for your appointment, we will have time to talk about any concerns that you have!

how oncology training matters

Info from Society for Oncology Massage

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