“Massage therapy has great potential to aid in the rehabilitation of the patient who has undergone treatment for breast cancer. We actually under utilize massage, and the early institution of that therapy might actually prevent some of the more long-term complications, such as retraction of the skin and lymphedema.”
-Oncologist Frank Senecal, M.D.
Massage therapy can be beneficial for women recovering from mastectomy, lumpectomy and lymph node removal by alleviating pain, fatigue, and anxiety. Massage therapy can increase range of motion and reduce scar tissue adhesions after surgery and radiation. By gentling stretching tissues surrounding the surgery or radiation site, muscles and ares of tightness can be opened and soothed increasing circulation and improving skin tone.
Gentle manual lymph drainage, decongestive techniques, and light effleurage help to relieve and prevent lymphedema. Lymphedema is a condition that is caused when a person’s lymphatic system is compromised due to fluid retention and swelling. This is a problem because tissues that have lymphedema are at risk of infection. Also, as part of the diagnosis for breast cancer many women have a large number of the lymph nodes removed through surgery for diagnosis. The greater the number of lymph nodes that are removed the higher the chances are that woman will have swelling that is called lymphedema. Deep tissue massage is contraindicated in areas where lymph nodes have been comprised (removed or irradiated) even if the patient/client is not experiencing lymphedema.
Other benefits of massage therapy for breast cancer patients include an increase in immune system function. Massage aids the patient’s ability to relax, thus reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and increasing levels of oxytocin, natural kill cells and lymphocytes. According to one study, breast cancer patients have “improved immune and neuroendocrine functions” following massage therapy [study conducted by the Touch Research Institutes, Department of Pediatrics, Hematology/Oncology Clinics, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and Department of Medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine].
In the study, 34 women with either stage 1 or 2 breast cancer were randomly assigned to either a massage therapy group or a standard treatment control group. In the massage therapy group, the women received three 30-minute massages per week for five weeks, including stroking, squeezing and stretching on the head, arms, legs, feet and back. Urine tests showed that the massage group had increased serotonin, dopamine, and natural killer cells and lymphocytes. Questionnaires administered in the study showed reduced anxiety, depression, anger, and hostility in the massage therapy group.
The decision to receive massage therapy after breast cancer treatment is something to discuss with your doctor and/or surgeon. He/she can help you decide if and when massage therapy will be of benefit during the treatment process. Post mastectomy massage generally takes place several weeks after surgery. It is important to choose a Massage Therapist who has additional training in treating oncology patients, and specifically treating breast cancer patients.
“Breast Cancer: How Massage Aids Recovery”. Yvonne Meziere. Massage Magazine, April 2014.
Massage Therapy and Breast Cancer. Eeris Kallil, Lic. CMT