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Written by Jill Cole, LMT, BCTMB, Director of Education

The field of oncology massage has grown leaps and bounds over the past decade. With the increase in evidence-based, peer review research around the efficacy and effectiveness of oncology massage, more and more massage therapists are being trained in this needed and meaningful field. More importantly, more and more cancer patients are receiving the healing power of touch.

Oncology massage, according to the Society for Oncology Massage, can best be described as “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”.

Medical complexities, both short- and long-term, arise from receiving cancer treatment. Having the proper understanding of these complexities and how educated touch may impact the body is vital for oncology massage therapists.

Assessments & Adaptations

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; medical devices; fatigue, neuropathy or pain; changes in sensation; and 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 (others may be obvious), but they are essential to safety and the proper support of your well-being.

Another important consideration with oncology massage is pressure, site and positioning. Deep tissue massage is a significant contraindication with a cancer patient because of the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (blood clot), lymph node dissection, death through radiation and possible organ and bone damage from radiation. Even for life, massage pressure through survivorship should adjust for lymph node removal or death because of the risk of lymphedema; for chemotherapy because of the risk of DVT; and for radiation therapy because of the risk of bone and organ damage. Being aware of the site is important because of possible equipment sites used with cancer treatments (port-a-cath, IVs, piic lines), and positioning is important to adjust for a patient who may not be able to lie on her stomach or back.

In Patient & Out Patient Care

While oncology massage encompasses services offered to cancer patients and individuals in survivorship, hospital-based oncology massage (HBMT) focuses on the side effects of cancer treatment in a hospital setting, both in patient and outpatient. Some of the side effects massage therapy has been able to help decrease includes but is not limited to fatigue; pain; nausea; chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy; constipation; and scar tissue post-mastectomy and/or postreconstruction.

Some more promising effects of oncology massage encompass reduced anxiety in advance of and during treatment; reduced posttreatment fatigue; improved appetite and decreased depression; increased feelings of well-being; being pleasantly distracted; improved body self-image; restored hope; and satisfaction in participating actively in a part of the healing process.

Along with the many benefits of HBMT/oncology massage, it is the act of touch patients receive that is so profound. For many years, many cancer patients went without massage therapy because we were too afraid to touch them safely and soundly. Through research and practice, we can safely move forward with our field and responsibly and safely touch an individual whose life has been affected by cancer.

Hospital-Based Massage Therapy 100-Hour Training Program

Lexington Healing Arts Academy (LHAA) is very excited to offer a 100-hour advanced training in hospital based massage therapy (HBMT), the first of its kind in Kentucky. Our program offers licensed massage therapists the skills to safely and confidently work on oncology patients in any setting, hospital or private practice. Our focus is not on the treatment of cancer – the patients are already receiving their specific dosing and protocols – but rather treating the side effects of cancer treatment.

In addition to our HBMT training program, LHAA offers massage therapy services to the public seven days a week. We have well-trained therapists on site who can safely work with cancer patients or individuals well into survivorship, as well as clients seeking massage therapy as part of their healthcare and well-being. Scientific evidence supports the benefits of massage. These include but are not limited to:

  • Pain Relief: Massage helps block nervous system pain receptors and increase blood flow to the muscles. It can reduce the pain of arthritis as it relieves and increases joint mobility, taking pressure off painful joints.
  • Stress Relief: Massage calms the body and helps relax the mind, in turn helping reduce stress by lowering the body’s cortisol levels, a prime ingredient in stress.
  • Maintaining Good Health: Massage is to the human body what a tune-up is to a car. The International Journal of Neuroscience says massage helps reduce heart rate and blood pressure. In addition, it helps boost the immune system by increasing the production of the body’s natural killer cells.
  • Faster Recovery from Injury and Illness: Tense muscles pull on and tighten tendons and ligaments. This can cause rigidity, cut off circulation for proper metabolism, drain your energy and pull your body out of alignment. Unattended, this can eventually lead to a host of diseases.
  • Improved Posture: Massage can improve body posture by helping train muscles to be in the right position, improving their ability to support the bone structure of the body.
  • Relaxing Muscle Tension and Improving Mobility and Flexibility: Massage stimulates blood circulation, increasing oxygen and nutrient flow to connective tissue and muscles, easing tension and muscle knots while soothing and lubricating overworked joints for increased flexibility.
  • Stimulating and Detoxifying the Body: The lymph system is the body’s natural defense system against toxins and impurities. Bodywork stimulates the flow of toxins from muscles, organs and tissues for improved health and digestion.
  • Increasing Attitude and Alertness: Massage improves attitude. It gets things flowing in the brain by stimulating brain-wave activity and helping increase alertness.
  • Becoming More Successful: Perform better in your life! A high-tech society calls for hi-touch to counteract the stresses of a demanding schedule and the hassles of modern life. A more stress-free existence boosts performance by allowing you to be more efficient and calm during your daily challenges.

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