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About Cancer Support


Cancer Support Massage

Since I opened my massage therapy practice in 2005, I’ve noticed an increase in cancer among my clients and their friends and family. I received specialized training to practice cancer support massage in 2011 and often people ask me, “What is oncology massage?” and “How is it different from what you normally do?”

What is oncology massage?

An oncology massage therapist is trained to understand the changes that come with cancer. I know how to modify the massage to cause no harm while addressing key areas of relief: emotional (anxiety and depression) or physical (fatigue, nausea and pain).

What is the thought process and major considerations behind administering a cancer support massage? I ask many questions because I want to get a clear picture of where you are in your journey and what to change or add.

For example:

Where are you in treatment?
Have you just been diagnosed and need anxiety relief or are you deep into treatment?

Do you have a tumor site?
Massage is never done on or around the tumor.

What’s your platelet count?
Knowing how thin your blood is will tell me how much pressure I can use safely. I use a 1-5 scale: 1 is extremely light (gentle fascial work and holding), 2 is similar to applying lotion very softly, up to 5 which is deep; affecting muscle tissue, which in my experience I’ve never massaged a person that deeply who is undergoing treatment.

Do you have a device such as a PICC or port-o-cath?
I make a towel ‘nest’ for it so you can lay comfortably prone. Else I will modify your session to side-lying.

Have you had an organ(s) removed?
I can incorporate trigger point work along that organ’s acupressure meridian into the massage. Scar tissue work and/or lymphatic drainage therapy can be helpful.

Have you had a mastectomy?
I won’t apply more than 3 minutes of deeper pressure on that quadrant of your body. Lymphatic work is indicated here because you’ve had lymph nodes removed along with the breast tissue. Lymph is never moved toward an area where nodes have been removed. Instead, I move the lymph along a pathway such that uncompromised areas can process the protein-rich fluid.

Are you receiving chemotherapy?
You should wait the recommended 3 days after receiving chemotherapy before getting a massage treatment so the chemo agent stays in your body long enough to do its job.

What agents are you getting?
I may wear gloves if agents such as Thiotepa and Cyclophosphimide have been administered.

Are you on any steroid medications?
Steroids weaken the surface tension of water which means your skin may be more fragile. I’m mindful of pressure once again and of using certain lotions/oils that could irritate your skin.

Are you at risk for lymphedema?
If you’ve had lymph nodes removed, you are at risk. If your doctor has told you no blood draws or pressure cuffs on a certain limb, I position the limb so it’s supported and not hanging off the table. No deep pressure to the affected limb.

Are you receiving radiation? External beam or internal beam? Implants?
The radiation will make your skin more sensitive so I will avoid the direct beam area. Sometimes, only specific hospital-administered lotions can be used when receiving radiation. If you have implants and they are still active, this is a case by case situation. For instance, if your therapist is pregnant, she could not see you and would need to refer you because you are considered ‘hot’. If they are inactive, no advanced precautions are necessary.

Has there been bone or spine metastasis?
If so, you will experience no jostling during the massage and very light pressure to protect and not compromise fragile bones.

Are you experiencing any side effects like neuropathy?
Light pressure here. Another therapist told me she is seeing success with using THC-infused oils to alleviate neuropathy pain.

What is my perspective as a Cancer Support Massage Therapist?

In the last 10 years, I’ve seen more people using complementary therapies, such as massage, and traditional healthcare providers realizing the positive impact of oncology massage. Most palliative care providers are already aware because they have the experience of working alongside us.

I see adults and children and would like to call your attention to a non-profit organization called Lucy’s Love Bus (lucyslovebus.org). If you know of a family who has a child with cancer, please tell them about this valuable resource.

Closing Thoughts

In the next newsletter, I will discuss what manual lymphatic drainage is and how it can be used for many conditions besides lymphedema such as migraines and auto immune diseases.

Massage therapy is an investment in your well-being, not just blood circulation/cortisol reduction/endorphin release, etc.  I’ve witnessed its benefits go much deeper than what studies can prove. I’m delighted to take you on your personal journey with the oldest form of healing we know, healing touch.

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