Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring 2002. Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
Q. What can you tell me about massage and cancer?
A. We looked to several experts in the field to answer this question, including Gayle MacDonald, author of Medicine Hands: Massage Therapy for People with Cancer. "Cancer treatment places a heavy toxin load on the body, which massage can help eliminate," said MacDonald. "However, too much too fast may be more than the client's body can comfortably handle. Skilled touch is beneficial at nearly every stage of the cancer experience, during hospitalization, the pre- or postoperative period, in the out-patient clinic, during chemotherapy and radiation, recovery at home, remission or cure, and in the end stage of life."
The benefits of massage for these clients include improved blood circulation, equalized blood pressure, and help with fatigue and nausea. The place to start is by consulting with your physician and your massage therapist. For those who are 2-3 months out from treatment, bodywork that can be used includes lymph drainage therapies, trigger point therapy, neuromuscular therapy, myotherapy and myofascial release, among others. It's better to wait before receiving deeper work.
While hospitalized, some appropriate techniques include cranialsacral therapy, polarity therapy, reiki and Therapeutic Touch. MacDonald said no matter how severe the cancer treatment's side effects, a way can always be found to administer some type of bodywork. According to massage therapist and former oncology nurse Cheryl Chapman, while it's important to receive touch from a qualified practitioner who has worked with cancer patients before, "Touch is always appropriate -- there isn't anyone who is untouchable."