Massage Therapy and Breast Cancer: Myths and Facts

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Myth: Massage is a luxury.
Fact: There are many benefits to receiving regular massage, especially during times of stress or health crisis. Many people use massage a part of their regular preventative health maintenance program.
Some benefits of massage therapy include:
    -Massage is relaxing and rejuvenating
    -Calms the nervous system
    -Helps you cope with mental/emotional stress
    -Relief of physical pain and fatigue
    -Increase flexibility and range of motion
    -Speeds recovery from surgery
    -Improves circulation and immune system
    -Speeds the removal of metabolic waste from the body

Myth: Massage is NOT safe for someone newly diagnosed with cancer.
Fact: Initially, it is best to err on the side of caution and receive gentle massage techniques such as Swedish massage or Reiki energy healing to help calm the nervous system. Deep tissue work should be avoided as well as work directly on the tumor area.

Myth: Since massage stimulates the blood flow it can increase the risk of metastasis (spreading to other parts of the body).
Fact: Massage does stimulate the blood flow but so does walking, exercising, taking a shower or a bath, all of which are highly recommended during cancer treatment.
Recent studies show that massage induces the production of the hormone oxytocin which counter acts cortisol also known as the “stress hormone”. Cortisol is very useful when we need the fight or flight mechanism, but under constant stress excess production of cortisol can be harmful by decreasing the immune system response. A cancer diagnosis is very stressful and a person is susceptible to anxiety and depression. Since massage aids with the relaxation response and the release of Oxytocin it can be a major aid in strengthening the immune system and release of toxins and promote healing.
 

Myth: Women who had lymph nodes removed should never receive massage.
Fact: Extra caution is necessary in this case due to the risk of developing Lymphedema. Receive only light massage on the compromised quadrant of the torso (arm, chest and back) but a regular massage can be administered to the rest of the body. It is best to see a professional who is trained in oncology massage.
 

Is massage OK during chemotherapy and radiation?
Fact: Yes, however a waiting period of 4-7 days after chemotherapy treatment is recommended depending on the treatment and the individual. It is OK to receive bodywork during radiation, but massage and oils should not be administered to the radiated area.
 

How about massage after surgery?
Fact: After surgery it is recommended to wait 7 days and up to 6 weeks before receiving bodywork, depending on the type of surgery and reconstruction and healing progress. However, energy work and gentle massage to non affected areas can be administered as soon as the client feels up to it and the doctor approves it.
 

What about massaging around tumors?
Fact: Direct pressure to the area should be avoided. Once the tumor is removed and the wound is healed, massage is very helpful to prevent scar tissue adhesions. Avoid deep massage to the quadrant of the body where lymph nodes are compromised due to the risk of Lymphedema.
 If tumor is deep and cannot be removed massage should be administered with caution.
 

Body image issues
Some women are self conscious about their body, especially after a mastectomy. This is understandable and most practitioners use draping techniques which reassure the client’s privacy. If the client is not comfortable with work on the breast area, or prefer that area covered they should make sure the practitioner knows.

How can I find a practitioner?
Since cancer diagnosis requires some modifications it is best to find someone who is experienced and has Oncology Massage training. However, if one already has an established relationship with a practitioner, trust and rapport are just as important as skills and knowledge. It won't be a bad idea to ask the practitioner if he/she is comfortable with educating him/herself before providing massage therapy during the cancer treatment. Audrey has recently completed a 24 hour National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork approved Continuing Education class for Breast Cancer and Massage Therapy to better understand and treat her clients that are breast cancer survivors.

Reference:
Massage Therapy and Breast Cancer. Eeris Kallil, Lic. CMT. Boulder, CO. bodyworkwisdom.com