Massage Therapy during Cancer Treatment

A massage treatment can be beneficial for most people. After all, not only can it provide physical benefits, but psychological ones as well. But if you have a certain medical condition, such as cancer, is a massage safe and is there any precautions you should take?

What Does Massage Involve?

Massage involves manipulation of the soft tissues of the body. There are several different types of massage including Swedish, deep tissue and sports massage. Massage can be used as a complementary therapy, which is often used in addition to conventional medical treatment.

Complementary therapy, such as massage, is not only done to address a person’s health condition but also to treat the whole person. Although it may not cure specific conditions, it can be used to decrease certain symptoms and improve overall health.

Benefits of Massage During Cancer Treatment

There have been studies that indicate massage therapy increases a number of immune cells. Maintaining a proper immune function is very important to fight against cancer. Still, massage therapy should not be considered as first line therapy for cancer.

While it may not treat the cancer itself, it can ease some of the symptoms and the side effects from conventional cancer treatment. Massage can have several benefits for people who are currently undergoing treatment for cancer including the following:

Decrease nausea: Conventional cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, can cause side effects including fatigue and nausea. Massage may help decrease mild to moderate nausea in some people.

Improve sleep: Difficulty sleeping can be a result of medications taken to treat cancer or to combat treatment side effects. Insomnia can also develop due to anxiety and worry about having a serious illness. Massage can help a person relax and improve sleep quality.

Relieve anxiety: It is normal to have anxiety after a cancer diagnosis. Worries about the future, treatment and the impact of a serious illness on the family are common concerns. Massage therapy can decrease stress and improve a person’s ability to cope.

Decrease fatigue: Fatigue is common for people who are undergoing cancer treatment. Even after treatment is completed, fatigue may continue for many months. Massage promotes blood flow throughout the body and may decrease fatigue.

Reduce pain: Although massage may not decrease all pain associated with cancer, it can help in some cases. Massage promotes the release of endorphins, which are chemicals in the body that act as natural pain reducers. Muscle and joint pain are also common side effects from cancer treatment, which massage may reduce.


Massage is considered safe for most people who have cancer and are either undergoing treatment or have completed treatment. But there are still a few things to keep in mind.

It is best to talk to your oncologist before getting a massage. If you recently had surgery, there may be certain restrictions. Also, your massage therapist should avoid areas near your incision. If you have a chemo port, your massage therapist should not apply pressure near the area or massage over it.

Let your therapist know about any concerns you have, such as pain, areas to avoid and symptoms you have. For example, if lying on the massage table is uncomfortable in certain positions, let your therapist know. Adjustments including the use of pillows, towels and a chair can be implemented.

As with any massage, let your therapist know if they apply too much pressure, not enough or if something is causing you pain or discomfort.

If you have lymphedema, talk to your healthcare provider before having a massage. Lymphedema is a condition that involves an accumulation of fluid in an area of the body, such as the arms. It can occur after removal of the lymph nodes, which is common in cancer biopsies, especially breast cancer.

Specialized massage called lymphatic drainage might help decrease swelling from lymphedema. But lymphatic drainage should only be performed by someone who has special training in the procedure.

What to Look for in a Massage Therapist

Since there are unique considerations for providing massage to cancer patients, it is best to find a registered massage therapist who has also been trained in oncology massage. To find a qualified therapist, ask your oncologist. Your local Canadian Cancer Society may also be a good resource to find information on complimentary treatment including massage. You may also locate a therapist by visiting the Society for Oncology Massage or Registered Massage Therapists’ Association of Ontario website.

Do not hesitate to ask a therapist about their training and certifications they have. After all, you want your massage to be relaxing, safe and a break from the rigors of treatment.

It is important to understand, that massage for people who have cancer is very individualized. Patients may have different concerns and goals for massage therapy. For example, some people may just want to relax and take a break from day to day worries of cancer. Other people may have certain areas of the body that are painful that they want a therapist to focus. Always communicate your goal for therapy to your therapist.