Massage Therapy for Cancer Patients

Massages are a great way to relax, rejuvenate, and pamper yourself. What you may not know, however, is that massage also has therapeutic benefits for cancer patients.

Massage Therapy for Cancer

Numerous studies have shown massage therapy to be beneficial for cancer patients. In fact, about 20 percent of cancer patients have used massage therapy to reduce symptoms and improve healing, and it's one of the most commonly used pain management strategies for pediatric patients newly diagnosed with leukemia. In one study, patients who received massage therapy experienced a 60 percent reduction in pain and 24 percent reduction in anxiety. Massage therapy also significantly enhances relaxation.

Other studies with breast cancer patients found that massage therapy decreases depression, anger, and pain. Post-surgery arm massages decrease pain and discomfort for breast cancer patients who have undergone lymph node dissection. Massages have also been found to reduce lymphedema (swelling). Lymph node dissection can cause immediate pain and limits long-term range of motion and function in the arm.

Types of Massage

Although there are several kinds of massage therapy, they all involve applying pressure and motion to muscles and connective tissue by a qualified massage therapist. Massage therapists use their hands or mechanical devices to focus on one or more areas of the body. Massages increase circulation and promote relaxation, and alleviate stress, anxiety, insomnia, pain and fatigue in cancer patients.

The most common type of massage therapy is Swedish, or Swedish-type, massage, which is based on five basic strokes and variations on these strokes. Reflexology is another type of massage that focuses on areas of the hands and feet are associated with certain areas of the body. Shiatsu and Funia stimulate acupuncture points and meridians to ensure energy and blood flow unobstructed through the body.

Experts suspect that massage therapy increases serotonin and dopamine (neurotransmitters) and decreases cortisol levels, which tends to increase with stress and anxiety. Massage therapy also supports the body's natural immune system by stimulating lymph flow and pumping oxygen and nutrients into tissues and organs to improve circulation. In addition to reducing depression and anxiety, massage releases endorphins, or the feel-good hormones (think runner's high).

Find a massage therapist who knows cancer and cancer treatment and check with your physician before seeking massage therapy. While massage is generally safe and has few, if any, side effects, there are some important precautions for cancer patients. Most professional therapists are certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and are members of the American Physical Therapy Association.


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