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Lymphatic Drainage

Manual lymphatic drainage is a gentle form of massage that accelerates the circulation of the lymph—fluids that support your immune system—throughout the body.

If someone has cancer, why should lymphatic massage not be done?

Kei Niebur (College Station, TX) on Sep 5, 2012
This is a controversial issue that has many supporters on either side. On one hand, lymphatic massage stimulates the immune system, and massage in general brings oxygen into all corners of the body. Cancer is an anaerobic disease, meaning it can flourish in places that lack oxygen. On the other hand, the lymphatic system, which circulates throughout the body, may have the ability to pump cancer cells to new place, though technically this can only happen if cancer had already taken root in the lymphatic system. Studies show no difference in metastasis of cancer between lymphatic drainage patients, and a control group that has not received the treatment. However some health practitioners continue to advise against all forms of body work. Some hospitals, such as the M.D. Anderson center in Houston, disagree wholeheartedly, and have a team of massage therapists on staff specifically for their cancer patients.
Sara Proffer (Marquette, MI) on Sep 5, 2012
This is up to your doctor.
Betty Humphrey (Harrisonburg, VA) on Sep 5, 2012
Lymphatic drainage massage moves the lymph fluids throughout the body's system. This raises the possibility that cancer might spread via lymph to another part of the body. The biggest danger in lymphatic massage is bombarding the body with toxins while it is in a weakened state. This would put extra stress on the liver, kidneys and other organs as well.
Betty Humphrey (Harrisonburg, VA) on Sep 5, 2012
Lymphatic drainage massage moves the lymph fluids throughout the body's system. This raises the possibility that cancer might spread via lymph to another part of the body. The biggest danger in lymphatic massage is bombarding the body with toxins while it is in a weakened state. This would put extra stress on the liver, kidneys and other organs as well.
Melanie St. Ours (Washington, DC) on Sep 5, 2012
Lymphatic massage can increase metastasis (spreading of the cancer) and should not be performed on cancer patients. This can happen when the massage physically moves cancer cells from one area of the body to another, or brings cancer cells into lymphatic circulation. where it can be carried through the body and lodge in new areas. It is always safe to do energy work like Reiki or therapeutic touch on cancer patients. I recommend using these modalities instead of hands-on massage.
Mark Carlson (Costa Mesa, CA) on Sep 5, 2012
It depends on what kind of cancer the person has. It shouldn't be done in cases where cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
Megan Belanger (Westborough, MA) on Sep 5, 2012
There is some controversy surrounding this issue. In 2003, the International Society of Lymphology published in a consensus document a theoretic concept that cancer metastasis can be promoted by mobilizing dormant cancer cells via massage/mechanical compression. This was, however, only a theory. Dr. Michael Foldi, an internationally renowned expert in the field of lymphology, has stated that malignancy is a contraindication for complete decongestive therapy (which includes massage in the form of manual lymph drainage, or MLD) pending two points: (1) the patient must be in treatment for the cancer, and (2) MLD should not be performed in the area of the body that is directly affected by a tumor. He states that metastasis is not caused by complete decongestive therapy. In his 2004 response to this consensus document, he stated: "The view, that by mobilizing dormant tumor cells, for example by massage, metastases can be triggered, is obsolete. The ability, to detach from the primary tumor mass, to invade nearby tissue and then metastasize, is acquired only by an elite few cells. These elite cells metastasize, regardless of whether they are pushed or not by massage. The molecular biological condition of dormant tumor cells is inappropriate for the formation of metastases." Indeed, a number of studies of different cancers have shown that tissue exposure to cancer cells does not mean that metastasis will necessarily occur. Factors such as the biological properties of the cancer cells as well as the condition of the patient's immune system are responsible for metastasis. So it can be said that elevations in venous pressure caused by MLD is not going to give cancer cells any special qualities that would make them metastasize any more than they would at lower venous pressures. Rather than a blanket statement that someone with cancer should not receive lymphatic massage (assuming they are currently in treatment, as suggested by Foldi), close analysis of each patient's case, including their own possible concerns about the safety of MLD, as well as close consultation with the patient's physician(s), should determine whether or not MLD should be performed during active cancer treatment. Sources: 1. Lawdena, B., Mondry, T., and Johnstone, P. Lymphedema: A primer on the identification and management of a chronic condition in oncologic treatment. CA Cancer J Clin 2009;59;8-24. 2. Foldi, M., Foldi, E. Dubik, S. Textbook of Lymphology for Physicians and Lymphedema Therapists. Munich: Urban & Fischer, 2003. 3. International Society of Lymphology: The diagnosis and treatment of peripheral lymphedema. Consensus document of the ISL, available at
Tanya Williams (Beverly Hills, CA) on Sep 5, 2012
People living with cancer have delicate immune systems that can be compromised if massage were to be given. Even if a doctor OKs it, I strongly suggest massage not be given. It would hinder more than it would help.
Vicki Mah (Sacramento, CA) on Sep 5, 2012
Personally I do not believe it should not be done. I imagine it depends on who is doing the massage. For myself, the energy that I give off is a healing type of energy (from what I have experienced) and it would serve as a positive effect on the body, helping it to heal itself. I believe the body was created to be able to heal itself. I'm not saying it should not be supported in the healing process with other methods, but care should be given as to how it is treated, because many Western methods serve to hinder the bodies healing ability. If the bodyworker is in tune with the client's body, the work should result as a positive service for the client.
Lloyd McElheny (Aurora, CO) on Sep 5, 2012
With many cancers, in most stages, that would be a no-no, as massage can increase the risk of the cancer metastasizing (spreading to other parts of the body). Ultimately, this is a decision that should be made only after consulting your oncologist. Ideally, your massage therapist should be working closely with your oncology team. You can facilitate this by signing a release form.
Ryan Chapman (Los Angeles, CA) on Sep 5, 2012
You would need to talk to your doctor and get their approval before you get any massage done. It all varies by client. It depends on what type of cancer you have, what stage it is in, your general health, and some other factors. You need to be very careful, as cancer cells spread through the lymph system and can be transmitted throughout the body easier with a lymphatic massage. I have worked on many clients with end stage cancer where this is not a issue. The best thing you you can do is talk to your doctor. I do recommend acupuncture, and reflexology.
Brenda Breedlove (San Francisco, CA) on Sep 5, 2012
It used to be believed that all cancer could be spread through the lymphatic system by massage, but research now shows that this may not be true. Oncology massage is quickly gaining popularity, as it has been shown to have great benefits for those going through cancer treatment. For example, it can increase white blood cell production, this is a HUGE benefit for those going through chemotherapy! With many types of cancer, the lymphatic system is already hard at work and we do not need to overload an already overloaded lymphatic system (Systems that are overloaded can and do shut down!) Additionally people going through certain types of chemo are more prone to infection, and because of nerve impairment caused by chemo and/or radiation, it could be difficult for the patient to detect the infection themselves. I know this as a 11 year cancer survivor! I still have a hard time detecting my own bladder infections as a result of radiation. We do not use lymphatic massage with infection present because it can overload the already-stressed lymphatic system and do more harm than good. That being said, massage can be done on cancer patients. There are certification programs now being offered, and those working with cancer patients should have the certification. There should also be communication between the doctors and the massage therapist, so we know exactly what is going on with our clients. This makes massage safer for both the client and the therapist.
Richard Jones (Nampa, ID) on Sep 5, 2012
It is easier for cancerous cells to break off and spread than with normal cells. That is why no manual massage of any type should be used on a cancer patient who is not either in remission or terminal.
Ryan Duncan (Centerville, UT) on Sep 5, 2012
You should not receive lymphatic massage if you have cancer because it can spread the cancer to other parts of the body, worsening the condition. Instead, try other modalities that do not move blood, lymph, or other bodily fluids. One good option is acupressure.
Deborah Gilmore (Golden, CO) on Sep 5, 2012
The reason doctors don't want you to receive lymphatic massage when you have cancer is because cancer cells can get dislodged and be moved by the lymphatic system to another part of the body, spreading the growth of cancer. There are always other modalities that can be used on people successfully who have cancer,depending on what stage of cancer they have. Don't think that you can't receive any massage when you have cancer. Just avoid certain types.
Matthew Schulman (Las Vegas, NV) on Sep 5, 2012
It depends what kind of cancer you have and what stage you are at. Massage can uproot the cancer and move it because you are stimulating circulation. If the cancer moves to your lymph system, it can spread. You need medical clearance before getting massage if you are a cancer patient.
Richard Bartlett (Lansing, MI) on Dec 11, 2012
Now the medical experts are saying that massage is okay for cancer patients. It used to be believed that massage could spread or metastasize the cancer, but this is usually not the case. Ask an oncologist if you want to know more.
Luis Rivera (Marietta, IL) on Oct 30, 2012
Reason being that lymph can spread cancerous cells to through the body through it's movement. It is contraindicated for such cases. Oncology massage is specialized massage for such issues and should be sought after if you want treatment during this dilemma.
Katherine Turner (Schertz, TX) on Sep 28, 2012
all i can do for now is refer you to this site that could help you better understand the benefits of massage for cancer patients....