Cancer and Massage: Information for Healthcare Providers

Massage Therapy is increasingly being used as complementary care during and after cancer treatment. The following information is intended to help you determine if massage therapy may help your patients.

Does massage have anything to offer my patients?

Yes, research supports (1) the use of massage therapy as a complement to pain medications and in the reduction of anxiety. Patients report many other benefits including decreased nausea and fatigue, and improved sleep and overall sense of well being.

A trained oncology massage therapist will also be able to show your patient some massage techniques to use at home.

Is massage safe for my patients?

Yes, a massage therapist with training in oncology massage can adapt massage to be safe and effective no matter where your patient is in their cancer treatment or recovery.

How will massage be adapted to my patients needs?

Oncology massage therapists have their clients complete a thorough health history and welcome the input of the patient’s healthcare team. This information is used to specially adapt the massage session to the needs of each client. Common adaptations oncology massage therapists make to a client’s cancer and treatment include shorter session length, care with pressure of massage strokes, and alternate positioning. For example, for areas at risk for lymphedema, “lotioning” pressure (like the pressure you use to apply lotion to your skin) is used on the extremity and on the associated quadrant. If needed, the limb is elevated during massage.

How do I help my patient find an oncology massage therapist?

While there are no government-regulated standards of what a qualified oncology massage therapist is, the Society for Oncology Massage (S4OM) has set forth minimum competency standards for massage therapists to work safely and effectively with people with cancer and cancer histories.  Therapists must have at least 500 hours of massage training, they must hold the appropriate credential to practice in their jurisdiction (in Illinois, this would be a massage therapy license), and they must have completed a foundational course in oncology massage.

If you are in or near Champaign, I am a Preferred Provider for the Society for Oncology Massage. You can contact me here . Otherwise, S4OM has a locator tool to help you find a provider in your area.

-Karyn Claflin, LMT

(1) MacDonald, Gayle. (2014). Touch- Rx for Body, Mind, and Heart: A Review of the Research in Medicine Hands: Massage Therapy for People with Cancer: p 26-54. Scotland, UK: Findhorn Press