• Liz Jester

Oncology Massage Therapy FAQ Series: How can oncology massage therapy help? Who can it help?

Updated: Jun 17, 2019



Great question. Let's start with the first part-- how Oncology Massage Therapy (OMT) can help. There is a small, growing, and promising body of research on OMT. This research suggests that OMT may reduce "the big five" symptoms/side effects of cancer and its treatment: nausea, fatigue, pain, anxiety, and depression. There have also been a few studies suggesting that massage therapy may improve chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). In addition to what the research says, we also listen to what our individual clients say. That they feel better after their massage. That they didn't have to take ibuprofen the day after their massage. That after their massage, they slept better than they have since their diagnosis. These are simply anecdotes, which don't mean much in the big, official world of medical research. But, they mean a lot to us, the massage therapists who care about each and every person we work with, and they mean a lot to you, the client, whose experience of cancer is individual, and can't be summed up in a meta-analysis of research studies.


Now, who can OMT help? This seems a little obvious. It helps our clients, who are experiencing cancer. But the ripple effect is wider than that. It helps their caregivers: spouses, parents, friends, relatives. It helps their dependents. It helps these people feel that there's maybe something small they can do to help, by either bringing massage therapist in to see their loved one, or even by learning simple and safe massage techniques to use themselves. And it gives them time to rest, while their loved one is being cared for by a professional. It can provide the relief that comes with seeing someone they care about finally get some sleep. It also helps doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who interact with people experiencing cancer. If OMT can reduce pain, nausea, and anxiety, it follows that it might be able to reduce the need for medication and medical intervention for these symptoms.


Time for this week's myth.


Myth: Oncology massage therapy boosts the immune response and can help the body fight cancer.


Debunk: Unfortunately, there is not enough research to suggest that massage therapy has an effect on immunity. Rather than treating cancer itself, massage therapy treats its symptoms and side effects, as mentioned above. It promotes relaxation and a parasympathetic response in the nervous system. This parasympathetic response is very important for individuals dealing with an illness, and it can certainly have an impact on an individual's mental and physical health. But, massage therapy, like other alternative modalities, should be used in conjunction with medical treatment.

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