Before continuing, let’s define massage. A simple definition states that massage involves manipulation, rubbing of the muscles and soft tissue to enhance function of these tissues and promote relaxation.
There is no clinical reason ever to refuse Body Massage to a person who has had cancer or is in treatment for it. Some therapists may not feel well enough trained or experienced to work with these clients, which is a fair reason to decline massaging someone affected by cancer. The hope, however, is that the therapist would refer the client onto another practitioner who is appropriately schooled in the needs of people living with cancer. To be turned away, when booking a massage session, is very hurtful to people wanting to ‘feel normal’ for a day. If a therapist feels poorly trained to work with these clients, the best action is to explain to the person wanting massage that, “Touch therapies are very beneficial to people with a history of cancer, but that I am not experienced or trained in the adjustments needed in this situation.”
Unfortunately, many years ago, a misconception grabbed hold within the bodywork profession, which believed massage could cause cancer cells to spread. For the most part, this myth has been dispelled. It is now known that cancer starts and spreads because of genetic mutations. Cancer cells do not spread because of the mechanical force of a massage or exercise or even the activities of daily living.
No one needs to be prevented from receiving the furtherance of touch therapy because of the treatments or the disease. What is needed is adjustment to the components that make up a massage session. The pressure usually needs to be decreased, especially where fatigue is present, certain areas may need to be avoided due to incisions, medical devices, or pain and clients may need to experiment with finding a position on the massage table that is comfortable for them. But, everyone can receive massage therapy in some way or form, even if it is only a foot or head massage. Let’s explore fatigue at three varying points along the cancer treatment spectrum – treatment, recovery, and long-term survivor ship. The adjustments at each stage will differ to some degree, depending on where the person is along the timeline.
Bodywork such as this is too vigorous for many people affected by cancer treatments. For the sake of this article, massage is defined as “any form of systematic touch.” A broad perspective, such as this, allows all people to receive some sort of touch therapy, no matter where they are in their cancer experience – treatment, recovery, survivor ship, or end of life.