A vast body of research suggests massage therapy provides moderate clinical benefit for symptom management, quality of life and promotion of positive wellbeing in patients with cancer 1.
Oncology massage is a client-specific, customized massage session designed to meet the unique and changing needs of someone in treatment for cancer or with a history of cancer treatment. A safe massage plan generally revolves around the side effects (both short- and long-term) of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Further, oncology massage can only be provided by a massage therapist who has received training in the specifics of cancer and cancer treatment. This training is more about cancer and less about massage and allows the massage therapist to be prepared for any contraindications.
Research suggests massage therapy may be effective for managing anxiety and stress, promoting quality of life, reducing pain, improving sleep and function, reducing depressive symptoms, and promoting other positive outcomes for patients with cancer 5.
Corbin, Weigher et al and Wilkinson et al. reviewed the safety of massage therapy 2. There has been no known evidence that massage therapy contributes to metastases from primary sites of cancer, though avoidance of direct manipulation of the area of a tumor tissue that may have been treated surgically or with radiotherapy is recommended 5. As we discuss in 5 Common Questions about Cancer and Oncology Massage Therapy, the fear that oncology massage will spread cancer is a persistent myth.
NCCAM recommends individuals with cancer first discuss massage therapy with their oncologist 2.
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Richardson M.A., Sanders T., Palmer J.L. Complementary/alternative medicine use in a comprehensive cancer center and the implications for oncology. J Clin Oncol, 18:2505-2514, 2000; Sagar, S.M., Dryden. T., Wong, R.K. Massage therapy for cancer patients: a reciprocal relationship between body and mind. Curr Oncol, 14(2), 45-56, 2007. Schrijvers D. Pain control in cancer: Recent findings and trends. Ann Oncol, 18(9):37-42, 2007; Smith J.M., Sullivan. S.J., Baxter G.D. The culture of massage therapy: Valued elements and the role of comfort, contact, connection and caring. Complementary Ther Med, 17:181-189, 2009; Stephenson, N.L.N, Weinkrich, S.P., Tavakoli, A.S. The Effect of Foot Reflexology on Anxiety and Pain in Patients with Breast and Lung Cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum, 27(1):67-72, 2000; Stephenson, N., Dalton, J.A., Carlson, J. The effect of foot reflexology on pain in patients with metastatic cancer. Appl. Nurs. Res., 16(4): 284-6, 2003; Sui Whi J. Effects of a full body massage on pain intensity, anxiety and physiological relaxation in Taiwanese Patients with metastatic bone pain. J. Pain Symptom Manage, 37(4):754-763, 2005; Wilkinson S., Barnes K., Storey L. Massage for symptom relief in patients with cancer: systematic review. J. Adv. Nurs, 63(5), 2008.
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