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

 

Massage Therapy for Breast Cancer Support


“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.

Resources:
“Breast Cancer: How Massage Aids Recovery”. Yvonne Meziere. Massage Magazine, April 2014.
Massage Therapy and Breast Cancer. Eeris Kallil, Lic. CMT