In 2017, 1,688,000 new cancer cases are anticipated to be diagnosed in the US. With more than 600,000 projected from the disease according to the American Cancer Society, cancer statistics of 2017. Massage therapy can play a huge role in healing and pain-and-stress relief. Let's talk about how.
Oncology massage is the modification of existing massage therapy techniques to safely work with complicated cancer treatments and diagnosis. There are so many life changes and body adjustments throughout diagnosis, treatments, survivorship and end-of-life care that specifically trained massage therapists learn and research to help facilitate towards a better life throughout all these processes. These massage therapists will modify their techniques to best suit your specific needs whether it be that you are going through chemotherapy, radiation or are post-surgery. They can be there through the highs of good news and keeping you feeling relaxed through the lows of bad news.
There is a standard the massage therapist should strive to meet when assessing their clients. Getting all information from the intake process will help with building your specific session, or possibly have to guide you away from massage at the time because of blood clots or anything else that could specifically hurt you. With their research the therapist will be able to help guide you in any way possible. Massage therapy will greatly help with all things associated with cancer. So, during this intake process you should be as vocal and honest as possible to receive the best outcome from your sessions and your relationship with that therapist to start healing. If you are receiving active cancer treatments, the therapist will also need a note from your medical doctor (oncologist) approving massage therapy and giving any guidelines or restrictions for them.
Many people will experience sickness, tiredness, and often, depression. Massage therapy can target all of these in just one session. One of the biggest complaints with chemotherapy that is associated with treatment is neuropathy. Patients going through treatment may not want to be touched or are worried about their ports, radiated skin, and their neuropathy, but so many patients have documented feeling so wonderful afterwards and realizing that it was something they should have been doing the entire time. Four women in Texas started Oncology Massage Alliances (OMA) to do some volunteer work. They all met through a Cancer Center and decided to focus on one goal: helping and healing these people through massage. They started doing hand and foot massages with all the patients while they got their chemotherapy and noticed such a difference in their clients by just receiving their touch. "They are so relaxed" said one of the therapists who started this nonprofit organization. Now OMA is spread throughout the Midwest and West with about 30 massage therapists on their team.
While massage therapy is highly effective in soothing physical ailments, its benefits extend in to many other areas of life. One study done in 2014 of patients with acute myelogenous leukemia who received 50 minutes of Swedish massage three times per week for 7 weeks, found that all participants experience stress reduction, increased comfort and relaxation. All while tracking health-related quality of life compared to a group of usual standards of care patients. The study compared five functional scales 1) physical, 2) role 3) cognitive, 4) emotional, and 5) social as well as a 2-symptom scale of 1) fatigue and 2) nausea. "At a global scale, finding statistically significant increases in quality of life when controlling both stress and anxiety were found.” There is a wealth of positive research in this area, showing massage therapy has the potential to greatly improve quality of life for cancer patients and their caregivers, as reported by Dr. Gariell Lopez, Assistant Professor in the Department of Palliative Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX.
To conclude, specifically trained therapists will use already established techniques to help. Most of the time a Swedish massage will greatly improve quality of life for all people suffering from cancer and the treatments associated with cancer. Be open and clear about what hurts, where to avoid, and mostly, how you are feeling. We as therapists want nothing but to heal through touch and find it is one of the best things we can do with our time and research.