In 2021 I became a certified Oncology massage therapist after completing my training in Oncology massage with Susan Findlay.
Each person suffering from cancer is affected differently and so the massage I give will be unique and tailored to each person; taking into account the stage in their treatment and journey. My goal isto help change the way people experience cancer by reducing the impact of their symptoms and to give those affected by cancer a space to breathe and relax where their comfort and wellbeing is the keystone to the massage care I give.
1 in 2 people will suffer from cancer and everyone knows someone who has suffered from this illness. I decided to specialise in Oncology massage after meeting someone who was undergoing chemotherapy for prostate cancer. He was in a lot of musculoskeletal discomfort after years of working on his knees in small spaces as a plumber. I asked if I could help him and he said he sadly couldn’t have a remedial massage treatment as he had cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. Even if the person suffering from cancer does not show any physical symptoms, a cancer diagnosis can be extremely traumatic and the positive impact of a oncology massage with a kind and caring touch in this difficult time can have a positive affect on mental health.
For massage therapists providing a sports or remedial massage to a person suffering with cancer is a contraindication, this applied to me as well in the past. I felt so awful and sad about the suffering this humble gentleman was going through I decided there and then to seek out specialist training so I could learn how to help those who are either recovering from cancer or currently receiving treatment for cancer to help reduce the impact of their symptoms and give them time and space to feel more comfortable and relax.
Oncology massage can help to ease fatigue, anxiety, improve sleep and provide much needed relaxation and comfort.
When our bodies are stressed, and cancer and its treatment is no doubt stressful, it releases high amounts of cortisol and adrenaline. This causes the muscles to tense up and feel tight. Massage is proven to benefit this by relaxing soft tissue, which enables the tension to disperse. Massage also stimulates the Vagal nerve, which is part of our parasympathetic nervous system. This sends a message through the body which tells it to destress and has been shown to improve mood.
A common complaint from Oncology patients is that they cannot sleep; this can be from a combination of either their treatment, or general anxiety about their condition. Massage increases levels of serotonin, which helps my clients in both their sleep quality and their ease of falling asleep. Sleep deprivation is also linked to a lowered immune system; this can be especially detrimental to people undergoing cancer treatment as one of the most common side effects is a suppressed immune system. Massage has been shown to boost the immune system by improving its cytotoxic capacity (cytotoxic cells are important for fighting intracellular pathogens).
Pain is also a common feature in oncology patients. Studies have shown that Oncology massage can consistently reduce cancer pain in a manner that no other type of massage can.
Cancer is no longer viewed by any medical professionals as a ‘hands off’ condition and, with the proper application, there are many benefits to be gained. It’s imperative to remember that knowledge is key, understanding the intrinsic and extrinsic factors surrounding the diagnosis is vital. Understanding what your client is dealing with will determine what you can offer, direct your choice of techniques and allow you to build a program suited to their specific rehabilitation or treatment .
As with all my clients after their massage I will also discuss Homecare with them to enhance the massage work we do together. This may include signposting to https://www.cancercaremap.org and relevant support groups or teaching family members or friends how to support you at home through safe oncology massage.
Lu WA, Chen GY, Kuo CD. Foot reflexology can increase vagal modulation, decrease sympathetic modulation, and lower blood pressure in healthy subjects and patients with coronary artery disease. Altern Ther Health Med. 2011;17(4):8-14.
Hatayama, Tomoko et al. “The Facial Massage Reduced Anxiety And Negative Mood Status, And Increased Sympathetic Nervous Activity”. Biomedical Research, vol 29, no. 6, 2008, pp. 317-320. Biomedical Research Press, doi:10.2220/biomedres.29.317. Accessed 25 Aug 2020.
Song, Rye Hun, and Do Hwan Kim. “The Effects Of Foot Reflexion Massage On Sleep Disturbance, Depression Disorder, And The Physiological Index Of The Elderly”. Journal Of Korean Academy Of Nursing, vol 36, no. 1, 2006, p. 15. Korean Society Of Nursing Science, doi:10.4040/jkan.2006.36.1.15. Accessed 25 Aug 2020.
Ang, J. Y. et al. “A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial Of Massage Therapy On The Immune System Of Preterm Infants”. PEDIATRICS, vol 130, no. 6, 2012, pp. e1549-e1558. American Academy Of Pediatrics (AAP), doi:10.1542/peds.2012-0196. Accessed 2 Oct 2020. ↑
Ironson, Gail et al. “Massage Therapy Is Associated With Enhancement Of The Immune System’s Cytotoxic Capacity”. International Journal Of Neuroscience, vol 84, no. 1-4, 1996, pp. 205-217. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.3109/00207459608987266. Accessed 2 Oct 2020.
Wilkie, Diana J. et al. “Effects Of Massage On Pain Intensity, Analgesics And Quality Of Life In Patients With Cancer Pain: A Pilot Study Of A Randomized Clinical Trial Conducted Within Hospice Care Delivery”. The Hospice Journal, vol 15, no. 3, 2000, pp. 31-53. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/0742-969x.2000.11882956. Accessed 2 Oct 2020.