Oncology Massage Therapy FAQ Series: Is Oncology Massage Safe?
Updated: Jun 3, 2019
This is part two of the OMT FAQ series. You can check out part one here.
This question comes up a lot, and it's a natural concern. People want to know that their loved ones are in safe hands, receiving a safe treatment. Cancer can be complex and complicated. The last thing anyone wants is more complications. And for decades, people experiencing cancer avoided massage, or were turned away from receiving massages, for this very reason.
Fortunately, we now know that skilled oncology massage therapy (OMT) is very safe. In fact, many hospitals and cancer centers now offer OMT as part of their integrative cancer treatment programs. The important thing is that the massage therapist you're working with is well-trained by a credible program. A well-trained oncology massage therapist is versed in the specifics of cancer and its treatment. They will know what questions to ask, and what adaptations to make. And if they don't know an answer, they will use caution and sound judgment to work with you while they find the answer.
Oncology massage therapists won't press or work active tumor sites. They'll adjust techniques to avoid triggering lymphedema. They are well versed in ways to give you a good massage without compromising your health and safety.
Time for myth #2.
Myth: Massage can spread cancer.
Debunk: Short answer: No, skilled massage doesn't spread cancer. Long answer: Science and medicine have learned a lot about how the process of metastasis (cancer spread) works. The old myth of massage spreading cancer is related to a belief that increasing circulation causes cancer to spread more quickly. It is now understood that metastasis is a very complex process that is impacted by things like genetics, environmental agents, and more. Metastasis is not caused or sped up by an increase in circulation. Here's another, more simple way to think about it: if this were the case, doctors would always discourage exercise, as exercise increases circulation. To the contrary, oncologists recommend exercise and movement whenever possible.
For more information on this topic, check out Tracy Walton's article, "Can massage spread cancer?" Tracy is a pioneer in oncology massage therapy research and education, and has a wealth of information on her blog. In this article, she also includes a link to a more in-depth discussion about the topic, written by Debra Curties, for those who want to get a little deeper into the science of it.