Onocology Massage

Oncology Massage Therapy is bodywork that is designed specific to the needs of people who are dealing with cancer and/or its treatments.

The main focus is to enhance healing while “doing no harm” to people whose bodies are:
    * dealing with lowered immune systems,
    * at risk for developing lymphedema,
    * stressed by radiation, chemotherapy, and/or recovering from surgery

Enhance Healing ~ Much more than a feel-good treat or relaxation technique, Oncology Massage Therapy can actually assist your body and spirit in their constant pursuit of restoring you to health. By integrating Western and Eastern modalities of bodywork in order to address the symptoms of both cancer treatments and the disease, Oncology Massage Therapy can help with:
    * nausea,
    * diarrhea,
    * constipation,
    * lack of appetite,
    * insomnia,
    * exhaustion,
    * low blood counts,
    * pain
and numerous other side effects from chemotherapy, radiation treatments and surgery.

This massage can also help:
    * boost the immune system
    * strengthen compromised body organs and systems,
    * build up blood counts,
    * lessen depression, and
    * enhance feelings of well-being.

Oncology Massage Therapy incorporates Reflexology techniques to strengthen both the physical and the emotional. The foot has reflex zones (and nerve paths) to all the areas and organs of the body. By working the related region on the foot its related organ or body system can be balanced. For instance by working the liver zone on the foot, the actual liver (which may be working overtime to detox from chemotherapy drugs or radiation treatment) can be strengthened. Or perhaps a recent surgery precludes bodywork in the surgical area, that part of the body can be addressed with Reflexology on the foot.  This modality is gentle and uses non-invasive techniques that assist in the restoration of health.

Do No Harm” ~ respects the limits of a body that may already be stressed by the disease and its treatments. For instance, a client may be detoxing from chemotherapy, or may be recovering from radiation burns. An oncology massage will honor the body’s healing process by modulating pressure levels and the length of the massage so as not to re-traumatize the body with too much or too deep work.

At Risk for Lymphedema? A common test/treatment for cancer is biopsy or removal of lymph nodes in the area of the cancer. Anyone who has ever had lymph nodes removed, tested, biopsied or radiated from the neck, armpit or groin is at risk for developing lymphedema. Because the lymph system has been compromised it no longer has the same capacity for transporting fluids through that area.

This can cause back-up of fluid leading to swelling which may eventually become extreme and irreversible. This is lymphedema, which is a life-long risk, regardless of how much time has passed since the lymph node procedure.

Oncology Massage Therapy integrates safety protocols into all massages when lymph nodes have been compromised. Massage given by someone who does not know or utilize these protocols can actually cause lymphedema. For this reason, you should see only an experienced oncology massage therapist if you have had lymph nodes removed.

If you already have lymphedema you can still receive an oncology massage. We are trainined in special techniques to carefully address affected areas. However, we may also want to refer you to a specialist who treats this condition if you are not already seeing someone for that.

How Might an Oncology Massage be Distinctive?

As with most massages, it will be tailored to the individual client. However, several things may be different from a massage you might receive in a spa, for example.

    * A detailed intake will be completed, including the kind of cancer you have (or had), your treatment history, your current treatment, any symptoms or side-effects you are experiencing, and any medical devices or lymph node involvement you might have.
    * Light pressure and limited duration to suit your specific needs
    * Any area of your body that has compromised lymph nodes will be honored with special techniques so as not to cause lymphedema
    * Special oils or creams may be used for areas of pain, scarring or neuropathy.
    * Some of the massage time will be spent on the feet (Reflexology).

* Depending on issues specific to your body, the position you lie in will be modified to accommodate any surgical or radiation sites or specific medical devices you might have. (Maybe you still have that port for chemotherapy infusions.)
    * Some gentle yet effective techniques may be used for shoulders and hips to maintain or improve joint  range of motion.

Most importantly, you will be met with love, respect and a recognition of who you are and what your own healing process is.

Contemporary vs. Historical Viewpoints about Massage and Cancer

In the not-so-long-ago past, it was thought that massage was contraindicated for cancer patients; that it could cause metastasis. It was such a strongly held belief that some physicians and massage schools still promulgate this misinformation. On the contrary, massage has not been found to cause metastasis.

Can Massage cause Metastasis?

    “ Although some sources have expressed concern that massage may cause a dislocation of cells from a site of cancer enabling a metastasis to be set up elsewhere in the body, there have been no controlled studies or other scientific evidence reported to support this theoretical possibility. …

    “In summary, it is our belief that GENTLE, conscious massage is not only safe, but has many demonstrated beneficial effects (e.g., enhanced well-being, decreased anxiety, nausea and fatigue.) There is no data to suggest that it causes any harm to persons with cancer.”

    Many of the state-of-the-art cancer centers  are including massage therapy as an integrated part of their programs to deal with the physical and emotional side effects from the illness and treatment procedures.

Physical Benefits

Massage is now recognized as a beneficial complementary therapy for people who are receiving traditional treatments for cancer (surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation). Not only does bodywork bring nurturing touch to those who have been poked and prodded in the typical diagnosis and treatments, it has actually been proven in scientific studies to be beneficial for patients who are being treated for cancer.

A 30-minute reflexology session showed a statistically significant decrease in anxiety in patients with breast cancer and lung cancer. Breast cancer patients also responded with a significant drop in pain levels.

In a study of bone marrow transplant patients, a 20-minute shoulder, head and face massage showed a reduction of anxiety, distress, fatigue, and nausea. It also showed a lowering of blood pressure in patients who received the massage versus those who did not.

Patients who received a 15-30 minute massage from a nurse compared with those who had interaction with a nurse but without the massage, had improved sleep, less symptom distress, and lower anxiety and pain levels. (In the group that had nurse interaction rather than a nurse massage, anxiety improved but sleep deteriorated.)

Psychological Benefits

Massage brings a unique focus to the body of a cancer patient; one of nurturing attention. This is very different from the typical painful invasive medical procedures of cancer treatment. Cancer patients in treatment use words such as punctured, cut, poisoned or burned to describe how their bodies are being treated. They feel like they are seen only as their cancer or their cancer treatment. Their entire life turns out to be about eradicating the cancer. The medical treatments are anything but pleasant; so unlike a massage which nurtures, soothes, comforts and subtly heals that same body.

Clients report that the massage is the first time they’ve felt like being in their body since the cancer diagnosis. They say that it is the first time they have felt a positive procedure used in the healing strategy.

In addition to changing the focus of treatment to one of nurturing and healing, when a client chooses to receive an oncology massage, it gives them a sense of empowerment to be able to take control of the direction of their healing process.

This may be the most important time of your life. What you do now may affect the quality and health of the rest of your life. This is your time and you come first. Whether that is getting enough rest or saying no to too much stress, or receiving a nurturing massage, this is the time to take care of you.    

Joan Woods completes a three day intensive course on Oncology Massage offered August 2010, in Baltimore, MD by Cheryl Chapman, RN.