Cancer and its treatment are not just stressful, they actually interrupt the body’s natural “relaxation response.” Side effects of cancer treatment and the stress of diagnosis cause our bodies to forget how to unconsciously relax. Patients, as well as their caretakers, may be more stressed and anxious than they realize.

Massage therapy can help to re-establish the body’s natural ability to evoke its relaxation response. This can provide much needed stress relief. In turn, a patient experiencing less stress may have better chances of recovering from treatments and fighting the disease itself.

While massage for cancer patients is different from other types of massages, it can provide just as many benefits. In this blog post, we will discuss what to expect and look for when receiving an oncology massage. More specifically for those experiencing cancer, we’ll cover what oncology massage looks like, the various ways it’s different, and how patients can incorporate it into their treatment plan.

What Is the Best Type of Massage for Cancer Patients?

Oncology massage is specifically designed for people undergoing cancer treatment and those working through the recovery process. It is also used for patients who will have long-term effects from their treatment. It is important to note that oncology massage was developed for cancer patients but can be used for many different types of chronic illnesses. These will be discussed in a later blog.

Oncology massage is different from other types of massage because it takes into account the side effects of cancer treatment and how it can create unique needs for each patient. A huge focus of this modality is meeting the patient where they are both mentally and physically. This could be different day to day and session to session.

A few key things your massage therapist should consider when planning your session are:

  • Physically:
    • How mobile the patient is
    • Where they are receiving treatment
    • How much pain they are experiencing
  • Physiologically:
    • What phase of treatment the patient is in (for example, they could be in recovery or in hospice care)
      How their body is reacting to the treatment and/or the disease itself
  • Emotionally:
    • How the patient is feeling in their body
    • How they feel about their treatment process
    • What their thoughts are about their diagnosis

Each of these factors could affect a patient’s decision to include massage in their cancer treatment plan. That’s why it’s important to consider every area when determining what kind of massage would best suit an individual’s needs.

How Does Cancer Massage Work?

Oncology massage is a form of non-invasive, compassionate touch. It’s different from traditional forms of massage because it uses light touch and slow, steady movements that help the central nervous system relax. It’s safe for cancer patients as long as they are seen by someone trained in oncology massage.

Cancer massage is done with the intention of helping the patient feel more comfortable. It also serves as a way to incorporate some non-invasive touch into cancer care plans. It can vary widely depending on the type of treatment the patient is undergoing.

Where Can I Have An Oncology Massage?

Oncology massage is usually given in a hospital or outpatient setting, but it can also be done in other settings as well. The examples below are popular settings in which massage therapy is used for cancer patients. While this list isn’t exhaustive, it covers the broad scope of situations where the approach to treatment may differ which in turn changes our approach to the massage we provide.

  1. At an infusion center – oncology massage therapists work around IV poles and medical devices, usually performing foot, hand, and scalp massages while the patient is receiving their treatments.During radiation treatment – the patient would most likely be seen at a specialized oncology clinic between treatments or at a cancer center on a massage chair or table.
  2. During in-patient care or at a hospital – usually this is done in the patient’s room where the massage therapist works around medical equipment and devices. Similar to working in an infusion center, they can provide hand, foot, and scalp massage. The oncology massage therapist can also massage other parts of the body where the patient is experiencing pain while they stay safely and comfortably in their hospital bed. In addition to this, some hospitals have cancer wellness centers where a patient can come inside the hospital if they are feeling up to it.
  3. In hospice or at-home care – the oncology massage therapist would visit this patient in their home (or in a hospice facility). The client will usually stay in their bed or their favorite and most comfortable spot.
  4. In recovery – most clients in recovery would come to a wellness center at the hospital or to a specialized oncology massage clinic. Although home visits may be made in the early stages of recovery.

While it may seem like there are more ideal times during treatment than others to incorporate massage therapy, this is not the case. Massage therapy can be beneficial for a person at every stage of their journey because it can be applied in a variety of settings and it can be customized to the individual’s needs.

Getting Started

Here are some questions you can ask your massage therapist to get started:

  • Have you received training in oncology massage?
  • What is your experience with this massage modality? How long have you been practicing?
  • What questions do you have for me about my medical history?
  • How do you handle the risk of lymphedema?
  • Can the fact that I’m immuno-compromised affect my treatment?

By asking these questions, you can gain a better understanding of the experience and training of a massage therapist. That way you can confidently go into your massage knowing you’re working with an experienced person you can trust.

Vinings Massage and Wellness offers oncology massage to patients in the local Atlanta region. Our massage therapists travel to some of Atlanta’s hospitals, wellness centers, and even to some clients’ homes. Plus, our team also goes on-site at Piedmont Hospital and visits patients who are receiving active treatment.

Through our in-hospital program, this service is available free of charge to any individual experiencing cancer, regardless of where they are in their cancer journey or what hospital they are being treated at.

In addition to Vinings Massage and Wellness, here are a few other groups that provide oncology massage:

  • Heal Well – This group offers courses across the country to train individuals on how to provide and integrate massage therapy. Based out of Arlington, Virginia, Heal Well collaborates with people in the industry to conduct research on the effects of massage therapy on people with illnesses. Our team has personally participated in conferences with the massage therapists at Heal Well.
  • Greet the Day – This organization offers hospital and spa based programs for people with cancer. They also offer professional training for massage therapists, nurses, and other caregivers. Over the years, many of our own massage therapists have trained with Greet the Day.

If you or a loved one is currently undergoing cancer treatment, we encourage you to reach out and learn more about oncology massage. Together, we can help you feel supported as you experience the benefits of incorporating massage into your cancer treatment plan. Please give us a call at 404-492-8582 or email us at [email protected] for additional information.