Massage Therapy for Cancer Patients
More than likely, you know someone who has or has had cancer. It is the leading cause of death in individuals 35-64 years of age and the second leading cause of death in individuals 65 and older (the first being heart disease in this age category). The American Cancer Society recommends massage therapy to bring comfort and to improve the quality of life for cancer patients, although not to specifically treat cancer. In the recent past, cancer was viewed as a contraindication for massage. This incorrect perception prevented people living with cancer from receiving treatments. The prevailing thought was that massage therapy increased the circulation of blood and lymph. Since most malignancies spread via these routes, it must increase the chance of spreading the cancer throughout the client's body. No medical evidence supports this claim. Currently, new and accurate information is available for massage therapists who want to work with cancer patients. Since cancer and cancer treatments affect the entire body, leaving the person in a fragile condition, it is vital for the massage therapist to be informed. Here are a few important guidelines to help massage therapist when working with cancer patients.
- Obtain medical clearance for massage from the client's healthcare provider.
- Use a side lying position and/or special propping to increase client comfort if he or she is unable to lay prone due to central lines on the upper chest wall, radiation burns, or surgical wounds.
- Avoid massage over or near IV’s, catheters, surgical wounds over known cancer sites, radiation burns, or known tumors sites.
- Adjust the treatment to the client’s stamina. Suggest that the client receive massage on high-energy days and times. Massage received on low energy days and times may actually feel depleting to the client.
- Massage may be contraindicated if the client’s has spread to the bones. If medical clearance has been obtained, pressure, traction, and joint mobilizations may be contraindicated or only cautiously used.
- If the client is experiencing nausea due to cancer treatments, avoid pressure and speed that rocks the client. This includes joint mobilizations, stretches, and jostling.
About the author: Susan G. Salvo Louisiana Institute of Massage Therapy Mrs. Salvo holds an associate degree in History and a baccalaureate degree in Education from McNeese State University in Lake Charles. She teaches at the Louisiana Institute of Massage Therapy where she has taught massage, anatomy, physiology, and pathology since 1987. Mrs. Salvo is a 1983 graduate from the New Mexico School of Natural Therapeutics in Albuquerque, which was a 1000-hour training course. She has been Nationally Certified since 1996. She has taken various Continuing education includes: Trager Psychophysical Integration, Hakomi Body Centered Psychotherapy, Sports massage, Body Mobilization Techniques by Robert King, Neuromuscular Therapy (St John Method), Craniosacral Therapy (Dr John Upledger), Tai Chi, Onsite Massage (David Palmer Method), Yoga for Health, Neurolinguistic Programming, Arum Day Spa Techniques, Watsu, Aaron Mattes Assisted Movement, and other various therapies. Mrs. Salvo is the author of Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice, second edition published by W. B. Saunders in 1999, 2003 and co-authored Mosby’s Pathology for Massage Therapists published by Mosby in 2004.