Myths About Massage & Cancer
Fact: There is no evidence that massage can cause an existing cancer to spread, and it can be safe even while undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments.(1)
Research has indicated that massage eases pain, increases feelings of relaxation, and provides numerous benefits for breast cancer patients from diagnosis to recovery.(2) Many doctors encourage their patients to seek therapeutic massage to help reduce symptoms and side effects of treatments, improve coping, and enhance quality of life during a very stressful time.
Let us set the record straight on what benefits massage therapy can offer for breast cancer patients and review the cautions and contraindications of massage during cancer treatment. We'll also go over some important things to discuss with your massage therapist and what to expect during your massage if you are recovering from breast cancer.
Massage Benefits for Breast Cancer Recovery
Studies have shown that massage can offer both physical and emotional benefits for women and men with breast cancer, including:
The "Relaxation Response"
Relaxation seems like such a simple thing, but it is perhaps the greatest benefit of massage for cancer recovery. Massage therapy stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system's "relaxation response", the opposite of "fight or flight". The benefits from activating the relaxation response include decreased adrenaline, lower blood pressure, slower respiration, relaxation of the diaphragm, and reduction in cortisol.(11) Additional biological benefits are decrease muscle contractions, lower blood sugar, and increase digestive enzymes and bowel function. Touch also allows the release of emotions and feelings such as fear, helplessness, anger, guilt, and loneliness. Massage helps people feel connected, safe, and nurtured. Massage therapy just feels good, which can be a huge respite during a trying time.
Massage Therapy Precautions for Cancer
While there are many benefits to receiving massage during cancer treatment, there are a few important considerations. It's important to let your massage therapist know about your diagnosis, treatment, and any symptoms you may have. While it's typically not required to have a physician's release to get a massage, let your doctor know that you are interested in including massage therapy as part of your treatment plan. This ensures your physician is aware and they may also provide your massage therapist with any needed or helpful information.
Some of the important points to consider when receiving a massage during breast cancer treatment are:
Getting a Massage During Breast Cancer
Now that you have learned the facts about the benefits of massage therapy and the important precautions for breast cancer, you likely still have a few questions.
What kind of a massage should I get if I have breast cancer?
Your massage will likely be a combination of techniques, including Swedish massage, myofascial release, and manual lymph drainage, and may even incorporate reflexology, acupressure, CST, reiki, aromatherapy, and other relaxing techniques.
How long of a massage should I receive?
This really depends on how you are feeling and how much you can tolerate. It is important not to be too aggressive and overload your system. Typically, a 60 minute massage is sufficient time for full-body Swedish style relaxation massage. However, studies have shown measurable and lasting biological effects in as little as 15 minutes of massage! (12)
When should I receive massage?
Massage therapy can be beneficial during every stage of your journey with breast cancer. Before surgery, massage can help reduce anxiety, and can help prepare your body by softening muscles and connective tissue, and relieving tension. Massage can help alleviate many of the side effects during chemo and radiation, and many patients find it helpful to receive massage a couple days before their next treatment. Healing from surgery or reconstructive surgery can be a painful and sometimes lengthy process. Massage therapy can help by improving range of motion and tissue elasticity, and reducing lymphedema. The positive experience of touch can also help people reconnect with their bodies and improve body image during and after breast cancer treatment.
Finding a Massage Therapist
It's important to find reputable, licensed massage therapist with the proper education and qualifications. Do your research, read reviews, and ask your health care providers to recommend massage therapists who work with cancer patients. Once you find a massage therapist, ask them lots of questions about their experience and skills.
Our team of professional massage therapists take the time to do a thorough intake and discuss any concerns or questions you may have. Before each visit, your massage therapist will work with you to make a fully customized treatment plan to meet your specific needs and preferences for that visit. During your massage, they will check periodically to make sure you are comfortable. If you need any modifications, such as elevating the table back so you can sit upright to help cope with nausea, your massage therapist will be happy to help. Always remember to let your therapist know right away if you experience any pain or discomfort during your massage. After your massage, be sure to give feedback so your massage therapist knows what techniques work best for you. Your massage therapist may also have helpful suggestions for relaxation and tension relief between massage appointments.
If you have questions about massage therapy and breast cancer, we would love to help you! Feel free to reach out to us anytime by phone, email, or in the comments below. You can also book your massage online, or give us a call (608) 769-5882.