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In the past, it was believed that the increased blood and lymph flow that results from massage could promote the spread of cancer cells from a primary site to elsewhere in the body.  In developing this general view,  the possibility of different massage styles and pressure being applied appropriately was not considered.

Regular exercise has an analogous outcome in terms of increased blood and lymph flow, and current research shows that exercising is beneficial for people with cancer.  If this view is considered, it can be concluded that if massage is conducted properly, avoiding direct massage of known tumour locations, that massage can be safely undertaken with positive benefits.

Oncology massage is not going to cure cancer but clinical studies show that massage can alleviate symptoms such as stress, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, pain, fatigue and depression in cancer patients (studies done by Tiffany Field at the Touch Research institute, Miami, 2005 and Memorial Sloan-Kettering, New York)

The treatment is adapted to the person's individual needs - there is no "one size fits all" approach.  In general, while the body is being burdened with tests, procedures, medications and associated side effects, massage needs to be supportive rather than an additional stimulus to manage. Not only the physical effects of the illness on a person must be considered but also the psychological effects and impacts on their well-being. The treatment plan is adapted so it is less demanding for a person who has been or is currently experiencing trauma as a result of their illness or treatment. Where immune function, lymphatic drainage, blood counts, digestion and organ vitality are all affected, the aim of the treatment is to support these systems by helping to engage the parasympathetic nervous system rather than over stimulating with vigorous, deep massage work.

There are several practical issues to consider, such as surgical wounds and scars, areas of burn or tenderness during and after radiotherapy or lines and ports used for delivering chemotherapy. The aim is to maximise client's comfort during the treatment by providing extra pillows and bolsters, as well as towels and coverings for warmth. Careful observation and conversation to discover the most appropriate positions (supine, prone, sitting, side lying) is a part of any treatment. So for example if a client is presenting nausea as a side effect during chemotherapy, it might be better for a client to be in a sitting or semi reclining position.

Assessment of needs and the treatment plan will require asking about range of issues (using a consultation form) such as:

  • when diagnosed,
  • what type of cancer, primary or metastatic,
  • any recurrences
  • what treatments clients have had in the past or now, any legacy of those treatments (lymph node removal, etc.)
  • any bone or vital organ involvement, pain or instability
  • general health at present

The treatment might be postponed if there is concern about the following issues (the client might be referred to their GP before proceeding with a massage:

  • Undetected DVT (unilateral leg pain or tenderness, redness or warmth, swelling, enlargement of superficial veins)
  • Spinal cord compression (back or girdle pain, stiffness, leg weakness, bilateral tingling and numbness in feet, loss of urge to defecate, loss of urine retention)
  • Contra-indication of MRSA/C (red, swollen, tender skin, boils or abscesses (pus filled areas, slow healing or infected wounds, fever, tiredness and headache)

For the protection of the therapist, massage treatments will be avoided during any period of internal radiotherapy treatment using internal implants.

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