If you, or someone you love, is currently living with breast cancer or has recently had a mastectomy, no doubt you want to do everything you can to make yourself (or them) feel better. One way to do that is through a massage.

There have been some reports that state massage can actually spread cancer cells, with one suggestion that because massage stimulates the lymphatic system, it makes it easier for cancer to move around. The good news, however, is that there’s no science to back this.

In fact, a study done by the University of Miami found that women with stage I and II breast cancer who received a massage reported feeling less anxious and less depressed. Another US study of 1300 people over three years found those who had a 20-minute massage while in hospital, or 60 minutes outside the hospital, had reduced pain, nausea, fatigue, anxiety and depression.

Breast test, woman examining her breasts for cancer, heart attack, pain in human body isolated on white, painful area

There are many benefits to massage, particularly for those living with the effects of cancer and cancer treatment.

Physical Benefits

The most significant benefit found through massage for cancer patients is a reduction in pain levels. Massage promotes relaxation and produces endorphins, which can help to reduce pain and swelling, as well as loosening tense and aching muscles. As mentioned above, it can also reduce levels of nausea and fatigue.

Massage can help to loosen scar tissue, which could be tight and uncomfortable; and it assists with constipation – a common side effect of chemotherapy. Another physical benefit is related to the lymphatic system, which is often compromised as a result of treatment or surgery. Massage can help to drain the lymphatic system manually and can adapt their massage methods to suit patient requirements.

Mental Health

Massage can help recipients to relax, and to “feel whole again”. It can assist with the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and it reduces the levels of cortisone – the stress hormone. Massage is known to improve sleep, and to improve the general quality of life of cancer patients.

What To Expect

If it is your first massage since being diagnosed or your first ever massage, don’t worry. The process is simple. Your massage therapist will talk to you about any injuries, scar tissue, any pain you might be having and the treatment you’re receiving. This will help them determine areas to focus on and what to avoid.

You’ll have the choice of a lie-down massage or sit down, depending on how you’re feeling. If you choose a full massage, you’ll probably be asked to remove some of your clothing. If anything makes you uncomfortable, just tell your massage therapist. If your surgery is recent, you might like to lie on your back for the massage, rather than your front.

Different oils and lotions will be used so if there are any allergies or anything you don’t like, speak up. And during the massage, if the pressure is too hard or soft, let your therapist know. Deep massage isn’t’ recommended to patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation.

Just remember, your massage therapist has likely “seen it all before”, and their job is to make you feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible. Ask as many questions as you like, or simply enjoy the music playing in the background. The most important thing is that you relax and let the massage work its magic.

A massage therapist who treats active cancer patients MUST HAVE training in Cancer (and Mastectomy) massage in order to know how to deliver the modified massage that is necessary for anyone undergoing cancer treatments. All massage therapists must be Licensed in the State of NJ, and must have training in the modalities they offer. Without specific cancer massage training, therapists will not know how to modify the massage for the clients specific cancer treatment. Be sure your therapist has been trained in cancer (and mastectomy, if breast cancer) massage.

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