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Oncology Massage: Supporting Living Well

Oncology Massage: Supporting Living Well

It is a sad truth that even the loved ones of cancer patients often feel afraid of hurting their sick loved one with a simple hug or other forms of contact. A hug then means a whole lot more than it used to, and so loved ones refrain, leaving the cancer patient more isolated than ever in a time when they need the close support of family and friends. The Australian Cancer Council recommends massage for cancer patients, otherwise known as ‘oncology massage’, as the ideal support for cancer patients to be received at stages when they need it most throughout their cancer journey.

Benefits of Oncology Massage

Eleanor Oyston from Oncology Massage Training says medical research has shown that massage can significantly improve the comfort and wellbeing of patients with cancer or a history of cancer.

"(A recent medical study) of 1290 patients over three years showed that cancer patients experience up to a 50 per cent improvement in their levels of anxiety, pain, nausea and depression. Research also shows that 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day reduces the incidence of metastatic spread of cancer by 50 per cent. As massage influences the same endorphins as exercise, this suggests that massage may be positively beneficial for those with cancer or a history of cancer,' says Eleanor.

Some benefits of oncology massage to cancer patients include:

  • Diminishment of side effects from cancer treatment.
  • Overall improved quality of life
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Reduced pain
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduced depression
  • Reduced nausea
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Decreased feelings of isolation and loneliness

Misconceptions About Oncology Massage

In years gone by, massage in any form was strongly discouraged for anyone suffering with cancer. It was thought that the pressure of the massage stimulated blood and lymph circulation, which could possibly lead to a spread of malignancies throughout the patient’s entire body. It has since however come to light that whilst cancer does spread via the lymphatic system, it spreads because of changes in the cells' DNA versus actual movement of the cancer or other mechanical means.

"Massage as a contraindication for people with cancer is a myth. Until recent changes in nursing (over the past 15 to 20 years), nurses and physiotherapists regularly massaged patients as part of a daily routine to reduce anxiety and relieve pain," says Eleanor.

What Makes Oncology Massage Unique?

"Oncology massage is a highly skilled set of techniques and modification of massage techniques that are designed to work with every complication of cancer and cancer treatment, even metastatic bone disease. No one is untouchable; every person suffering can be held and comforted in some way."

When working with a cancer patient and administering oncology massage, a practitioner should:

  • Seek medical clearance for the massage from their oncologist if the massage therapist is not trained by Oncology Massage Training in Australia.
  • Ensure maximum comfort by getting the patient to lie on their side or by positioning them in a special propped position. This will allow the practitioner to work around surgical wounds, radiation burns, IV’s, Catheters, central lines on the upper chest wall or importantly known tumour sites.
  • Consult the patient to assess their stamina for the day, as massage may actually deplete some patients on low energy days.
  • Only qualified Oncology Massage Therapists should offer massage to clients with cancer in their bones.
  • Avoid pressure and speeds that may trigger nausea in some clients receiving cancer treatment, like joint mobilizations, stretches, and jostling.

"Assessing the fatigue level of any client is the most significant indicator of the pressure, site, position, duration of treatment and speed of strokes required for an individual. If there is an area of excessive heat in a limb or shortness of breath, STOP. Deep vein thrombosis is common with some chemotherapies as well as heart muscle impairment," says Eleanor.

It is advised cancer patients check the qualifications of their massage practitioner to ensure they only receive oncology massage treatment from those qualified to do so.

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