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How Massage Therapy Can Benefit Cancer Patients

Massage therapy can be a great way to unwind after a hectic week. As a massage therapist, you have the chance to help people relax their tense muscles and ease their anxious minds. While massage therapy is great for anyone, it can also improve the lives of people suffering from a variety of health conditions. Massage therapy has been known to help people with chronic pain rely less on opioids, and it can help ease the pain of those suffering from HIV/AIDS.


Massage therapists can also be greatly beneficial to cancer patients. In fact, some hospitals are even offering massage therapy as a complimentary part of cancer treatment. As a massage therapist, this gives you the opportunity to help cancer patients all over the country.


Thanks to a 2016 study, researchers now believe that massage therapy can offer physical and mental help to cancer patients. Cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, while lifesaving, are extremely uncomfortable, intense and stress inducing. Massage therapy has been proven to help counteract the negative side effects associated with cancer treatment by offering a pain-relieving, soothing environment. Here are a few side effects of cancer treatment that can greatly benefit from massage therapy.


Treatment-Related Nausea


A recent study focusing on alternative methods for treating nausea found that certain types of massage therapy were even more successful than conventional methods. Chemotherapy and radiation often times results in nausea and vomiting, which is why cancer patients are always prescribed nausea medication like Zofran. However, massage therapy paired with ginger and dexamethasone has proven to be very helpful in reducing nausea in these patients as well.  


Depression and Anxiety


Massage therapy can help people in a lot of ways, but its effects on depression and mood disorders have shown some real promise. In fact, massage therapy is endorsed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology  for its ability to treat depression, especially in women with breast cancer. Depression, stress and anxiety are all quite common in cancer patients. In breast cancer patients, this becomes more complicated when antidepressant drugs can reduce the effectiveness of some breast cancer medications. Since depression can suppress the immune system, thus lowering survival rates in women with breast cancer, it is vital that their mental health be treated along with their physical health. That is why massage therapy is vital to the well-being of these women undergoing treatment.


Cancer Fatigue


Cancer fatigue is one of the most debilitating aspects patients face during treatment, but it can also last long after treatment has ended. In fact, some patients still experience mild fatigue for months or even years after their treatment has ended, depending on the type of cancer and treatment. Massage therapy has shown to greatly reduce the effects of fatigue for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation and even after.


Chemotherapy Pain


While massage therapy should not be used as a first resort to relieve pain, it has been shown to vastly reduce the amount of pain cancer patients experience during treatment. Chemotherapy is an extremely toxic agent, so releasing it into the blood stream can lead to uncomfortable or painful sensations throughout the body. One study suggests that the endorphins released during a massage can lower one’s reception of pain, which can make treatment seem less painful. Massaging the areas most affected by the chemo can sometimes help soothe the veins and reduce pain as well.


When Massage Therapy is Not Advised to Cancer Patients


Massage therapy is usually safe for cancer patients, but if they suffer from certain conditions, it is better that massages be avoided. Some instances include:


Blood Clots


If a patient has been diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis, they should avoid massage therapy. For patients with blood clots, a massage could cause the clot to move to another area, which could lead to further complications.




For patients fighting off an infection, especially those running a fever, massages should be avoided. During an infection, the body is already working overtime to fight it off and adding the additional stimulation of a massage may make it more difficult for the immune system.


Low Blood Platelet Count


Thrombocytopenia, or low platelet blood counts, can make getting a massage very dangerous. For patients with low platelet counts, massages should be avoided all together.


Massages therapy should also be avoided around the sites of active tumor growth, sites of recent incisions, and anywhere an open wound is present. Deep tissue massages should also be avoided while patients are undergoing chemotherapy even if normal blood counts are recorded.


While there are myths that massage therapy can spread cancer throughout the body, all studies and trials have found this to be untrue.


Being a Massage Therapist to Cancer Patients


As a massage therapist to cancer patients, you can be a positive part of their treatment. By providing a comfortable, relaxing atmosphere, easing pain, reduce stress and fatigue, and even curbing nausea symptoms, you can help make the lives of those suffering much easier.


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