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Supportive Care for Cancer

Massage for Cancer

For Patients and Survivors

Integrative medicine therapies are especially valuable in helping cancer patients maintain a sense of well-being. Oncology massage, now a recognized sub-specialty of massage therapy, can support quality of life before, during and at the conclusion of rigorous cancer treatment. Massage can also ease residual symptoms after treatment. [1] Whether fighting to get well or working to stay well, oncology massage can be a safe and supportive therapy for cancer and treatment side-effects, if possible by a qualified licensed massage therapist.

The physical and emotional benefits of massage therapy for cancer have been extensively studied. Cancer patients experience better relaxation, improved sleep and immune response, and decreased pain, anxiety, nausea and/or vomiting after massage.[2][3]  Patients have noted improved circulation as well.[4] Survivors of breast or prostate cancer, lymphoma and melanoma can experience lymphedema, or swelling from incomplete lymph drainage. Oncology massage has shown to relieve swelling and pain. [5],[6]

Our experienced massage therapists are trained to help people manage the physical and emotional aspects of the cancer experience.  Massage can provide a much-needed respite during stressful cancer treatment. Experienced oncology massage therapists are aware of the peculiarities of specific cancer treatments, including contraindications against certain types of touch or pressure for certain cancers.  They are empathetic to the patient and caregivers.

For Caretakers

Caring for cancer is a stressful experience. It is important for caretakers to pay attention to their own health and wellness so they can best support loved ones through treatment and recovery.  Studies show as little as 20 minutes of massage can reduce stress and elevate mood in spouses and caretakers.[7][8][9] It is possible to make concurrent appointments for the patient and a loved-one, though advanced booking is required.

What to Expect During Oncology Massage

Our practice includes Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, Reiki, myofascial release, reflexology and lymphatic drainage. Each service is tailored to the patient’s needs. The most common massages incorporate Swedish and muscle relaxation techniques---long and circular strokes and moderate pressure. For those patients whose cancer treatments make it difficult to withstand pressure and touch, Reiki and energy work are available. Myofascial release, gentle stretching and manual manipulation of connective tissue, restores flexibility and decreases pain. To avoid discomfort, the appropriate technique is best determined by an oncology massage therapist on an individual basis. Patients should share as much information as possible about their cancer type and treatment with the therapist. 

Appointments are available at our Green Spring Station office or at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Please inform your doctor or medical care provider of any integrative medicine therapies used to support your cancer treatment. 

[1] Myers, C., T. Walton, and B. Small. “The value of massage therapy in cancer care.” Hematology/ Oncology Clinics of North America 22, no. 4, (2008): 649.

[2] Russell, N.C., et al. “Role of massage therapy in cancer care.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 14, no. 2, (2008): 209-14, accessed February 3, 2011. PMID: 18315504

[3] Cassileth B. and A.J. Vickers. “Massage therapy for symptom control: outcome study at a major cancer center.” Journal of Pain Symptom Management 28, (2004):244-249.

[4] Hernandez-Reif, Maria, et al. “Breast cancer patients have improved immune and neuroendocrine functions following massage therapy.” Journal of Psychosomatic Research 57, no. 1 (2002): 45-52, (accessed January 11, 2011).

[5] Bernas, M., et al., "Massage therapy in the treatment of lymphedema," Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine, IEEE 24, no.2, (March-April 2005): 58- 68. doi: 10.1109/MEMB.2005.1411350

[6] Norman, Sandra A., et al. “Lymphedema in breast cancer survivors: incidence, degree, time course, treatment and symptoms.” Journal of Clinical Oncology 27, no. 3 (January 20, 2009): pp. 390-397, (accessed January 11, 2011).
doi: 10.1200/JCO.2008.17.9291

[7] Goodfellow, L. “The effects of therapeutic back massage on psychophysiologic variables and immune function in spouses of patients with cancer.” Nursing Research 52, no. 5 (September/October 2003): 318-328.

[8] MacDonald, Gayle. “Massage as a respite intervention for primary caregivers.” American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine 15, no. 1 (1998): 43-47.

[9] Rexilius, S.J. “Therapeutic effects of massage therapy and handling touch on caregivers of patients undergoing autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplant.” Oncology Nursing Forum 29, no. 3 (2002): E35-44, (accessed January 26, 2011). PMID: 11979292.