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Oncology Massage: Lightening the Daily Burdens of Cancer When Patients Need it Most

Oncology Massage: Lightening the Daily Burdens of Cancer When Patients Need it Most

A woman receiving an oncology massage after her chemotherapy treatment.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, drawing our attention to a disease that the American Cancer Society predicts will be diagnosed in 350,000+ Americans in 2023. For those suffering the physical and emotional burdens of breast cancer, massage therapy can offer relief that may otherwise be difficult to find, mitigating the side effects of invasive procedures and pharmaceuticals, and easing the pain and stress of the disease itself.

In fact, many cancer centers now offer oncology massage as an integrative therapy for cancer patients. The term “integrative” denotes the combining of traditional cancer treatments to address the tumor with complementary or “alternative” treatments. In this context, massage isn’t used as an intervention—like chemotherapy or surgery would be—but as a method of helping with the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of treatment.

What Are the Benefits of Massage for Cancer Patients?

Research has found that massage can be a powerful booster of both physical and psychological wellness—two things any cancer patient deserves in abundance! Specialized forms of oncology massage therapy are practiced in hospitals, clinics, and outpatient environments across the country.

Massage during cancer treatment and recovery has numerous benefits, including:

  • Reduced nausea caused by chemotherapy or other pharmaceutical treatments
  • Decreased pain from the disease itself or surgical interventions
  • Treatment of neuropathy
  • Reduced depression, anxiety, and stress
  • Improved mood and sleep
  • Strengthened immune system function

But for someone living with cancer—or undergoing treatment—there are unique considerations when utilizing massage therapy. Employing a massage therapist with extensive knowledge and education in oncology massage can make a world of difference in the patient’s experience and vastly improve the massage’s benefits. Such a therapist has typically completed hands-on training in the treatment of patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, in addition to coursework on pertinent topics, such as manual lymph drainage.

What Does the Science Say?

So far, research has proffered a lot of good news. Here are just a few examples:

2016 study examined the benefits of massage in people in chemotherapy, finding that it led to improvements in pain, fatigue, nausea, and anxiety. Similarly, a 2015 study looked at different approaches to mitigating chemo-induced nausea, combining conventional and alternative therapies. Results showed that a combination of dexamethasone, massage, and ginger was more effective at reducing nausea than other combined treatments.

2018 study published in the journal Cancer found that Swedish massage resulted in significant improvement in cancer-related fatigue for people with stage 0 to stage III breast cancer.

Numerous studies have found that oncology massage can reduce anxiety and stress for people living with cancer by activating the parasympathetic nervous response and lowering cortisol levels. This reduction in stress hormones can have additional physical benefits, including improved immune response—something any cancer patient would welcome.

What Should Patients and Therapists Know About Massage for Cancer Patients?

Some factors to consider for both patient and therapist when receiving or performing oncology massage include:

  • Massage for people receiving radiation or chemotherapy requires a therapist with the knowledge and ability to assess appropriate levels of pressure, treatment/medication contraindications, and therapy side effects via a thorough medical assessment.
  • Therapists should be trained in how to massage clients at risk for lymphedema (often a side effect of surgical node dissection or radiation to nodes in a given area).
  • Patients with certain blood cancers should seek out a therapist capable of assessing the appropriate use of soft tissue manipulation when blood counts are low or other conditions exist, such as weakened bones caused by myeloma.
  • Oncology massage therapists must be particularly mindful of medical devices and appliances such as a port, IV, catheter, or ostomy bags.

Most importantly, every oncology massage—and every patient—is unique. A therapist trained in oncology massage will conduct a detailed medical review prior to a patient’s first session, so he or she can accommodate the patient’s unique circumstances, such as surgeries, side effects of treatment, blood cell counts and medical devices.

Should You Schedule an Oncology Massage?

With the right practitioner, massage therapy can offer cancer patients the opportunity to be pain-free, worry-free, and experience physical and emotional rest—a much-needed respite from the daily burdens of cancer.

Are you or a loved one thinking about booking an oncology massage? Zeel can send skilled, licensed massage therapists who specialize in this area to homes, hospitals, or other locations nationwide. Zeel on-location massage is available 7 days a week, 365 days a year, including holidays—because nothing should get in the way of treatments that can help make life with cancer easier.

To schedule a massage, download the Zeel app for iPhone or Android, or go to

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