Cancer is a scary, hard time for anyone experiencing it. Not only are you fighting for your life, but your current quality of life is slowly being taken from you. Cancer patients are having their entire world flipped upside down in the blink of an eye. Dealing with cancer can be a lonely time for people. Even with the support of family and friends, they will never truly understand all that a cancer patient is dealing with. Cancer patients may become depressed because of their diagnosis and because of the feeling of loneliness.
Treatment Options for Cancer Patients
Once the patient finds out what stage their cancer is in, they can begin discussing treatment options. There are many different types of treatments out there for cancer today and it’s best to discuss with your doctor the pros and cons of each one. They all come with their own side effects and some may be more beneficial to your specific cancer.
- Surgery: Surgery is needed if doctors find a cancerous tumor. Getting the tumor out is number one priority. Sometimes, but not all, the cancer has not spread outside of the tumor. That is best case scenario, but even if your cancer has spread outside of the tumor, it is possible that it hasn’t spread far.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a popular type of treatment for cancer. It works by destroying your cancer cells. By destroying the cells, it can lessen or stop your cancer. While chemotherapy can be very helpful, it can destroy healthy cells as well. When your healthy cells are being damaged, it causes side effects such as hair loss and nausea.
- Radiation Therapy: We know radiation is used in x-rays in low doses, but in high doses, radiation can be used to kill cancer cells. It does take days or weeks for these cancer cells to die and leave the body. Radiation therapy is similar to chemotherapy in the ways that it kills your healthy cells as well, causing side effects.
Massage Therapy for Cancer Patients
While cancer is already a lot on your body, the treatments used to treat your cancer are an added stress. The side effects of cancer combined with the treatment side effects can be almost debilitating for patients. Massage can be used as a great coping mechanism for your side effects and symptoms. Massage cannot make cancer go away and it certainly is not an alone treatment for cancer, but a person is not defined by their cancer diagnosis and they should still be able to live a happy life. Massage can bring back a person’s positive attitude, their sense of self-worth, help give them a chance at a great quality of life, etc.
When receiving a massage when you have cancer, you should always always always make sure that the massage therapist is trained in oncology massage. While all massages feel great, certain massages are not okay for patients dealing with cancer. It can cause a whole mess of issues if the massage therapist does not know what the risks are. It is highly advised that you do not stop taking medications prescribed by your doctor to replace with massage therapy for treatment side effects. Massage is meant to be used in addition to these treatments.
Below is a list of side effects that massage therapy can be used to alleviate:
- Nausea: Nausea is a huge side effect of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, along with vomiting.
In a 2013 study, researchers took 70 patients undergoing chemotherapy and split them into two groups: massage therapy and control. 24 hours before chemotherapy and 24 hours after, patients were give a Swedish massage for 20 minutes. The results were assessed using the Visual Analogue Scale. The results showed that the patients in the massage therapy group had a 25.7% incidence rate and 20% severity.
- Depression: Fighting for your life doesn’t seem like anything that would put someone into a cheerful mood. As stated above, people who are battling cancer are also feeling lonely. Massage is known to help with clinical depression, so it definitely can be helpful in treating depression associated with cancer treatment.
- Pain: Massage therapy releases endorphins, which are our “feel good” hormones. When these hormones are released, they help to combat pain in our body.
- Sleep Patterns: Less pain and stress will help cancer patients get better sleep at night.
While massage therapy is beneficial, as stated above, always make sure you are seeing a massage therapist who specializes in oncology massages. There is a risk of getting massages during cancer treatments and one who is not specialized in oncology massages would not necessarily need to know this information, which could lead to bad outcomes.
Risks of massage therapy for cancer patients include:
- Skin breakdown
- Dislodging a blood clot
Deep tissue massages are not recommended for patients dealing with cancer. Massages should be light and relaxing. It is important that the massage therapist avoids tumor sites or treatment sites, as it can cause pain and discomfort to the patient.
Free Help For Cancer Patients
Medical bills can already be such a burden on patients. Adding the cost of massage into that is asking a lot for a lot of people. Luckily, there are some generous organizations in the world that help provide free massage services to cancer patients.
Angie’s Spa Cancer Foundation
Not only does Angie’s Spa fund treatment for massage, they have acupuncture, yoga, and Reiki too. Angie’s Spa is named after a woman named Angie Levy who lost her battle with metastatic breast cancer is 2007. During her battle with cancer, Angie worked towards her goals and career, while being active in numerous charities. Angie’s spa is a way to give back to cancer patients in her name. 100% of their donations go towards their programs and they even have their financials listed on their website so you can see where your donations are going. Angie’s Spa has 10 programs in 9 states in the US and hoping to continue to grow. For more information and locations, please visit the site listed above.
Greet the Day
Located in California, Greet the Day offers free massage and bodywork therapists to cancer patients. They offer programs such as inpatient massage, spa day retreat, infusion center, and a client clinic.
To find an organization near you, visit the Society for Oncology Massage’s website at https://www.s4om.org/.
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Benefits of Oncology Massage. Piedmont Healthcare.
Walton, T. 2000. Cancer and Massage: Clinical Thinking and Cancer. American Massage Therapy Association.
Ruane, G. 2017. Oncology Massage Brings Pain Relief to Cancer Patients. Massage Magazine.
Types of Cancer Treatment. National Cancer Institute.
Mashhad, I. 2013. The Effect of Massage Therapy on Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting in Pediatric Cancer. PubMed.gov.