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Massage for Cancer Survivors

I’m a cancer survivor, is massage right for me?

You’re not Alone

Cancer Word Cloud Concept in Red CapsAs a cancer survivor, you have a “new Normal”. It takes at least a year after the end of treatment to recover and settle into a new relationship with your body. After Chemotherapy, Radiation or Surgery, so much has changed. Things that you used to take for granted, such as hair texture, body mass, skin elasticity, even surgical scars and implants are now very different. The permanent changes may be subtle, or affect you every day.

Massage can be beneficial for those who are healing from their recently completed treatment, as well as those who are 20-years in remission. This article is intended to help Cancer Survivors understand how to get the most out of a massage session, and stay within recommended safety guidelines.


“So many thanks for the gift of your time and wonderful touch of your hands. I can honestly say the whole day was the best thing to happen to me this year! I truly was very relaxed after the massage you gave me – it was awesome!” Thank you again and again!”

-Patty G. (courtesy of GreettheDay.org)

What is Massage for Cancer Survivors like?

Here are the ways an Oncology Massage will be customized for you:

  • PRESSURE: can be as light or firm as you wish. However, if you have had lymph nodes removed or radiated, it may not be safe for you to have deep tissue massage in the surrounding area. But you can have more firm pressure on the rest of your body if that’s what you like. Massage should never be painful.
  • POSITION: It’s OK If you don’t want to lie face-down, you can lie on your side instead. Any positional restrictions can be accommodated by propping up with pillows. You can even have a massage seated in a chair!
  • SCARS: Restrictions in scarred tissue can be a source of great discomfort. You can decide if your scarred areas need attention, or if they are better off left alone.
  • Can Massage Help? Benefits of Regular Massage for .

Stress is our number one Enemy. Research shows that application of massage improves stress responses and a can bring a much-needed sense of wellbeing (1). Specifically those who receive regular massage report better Stress Management, improved sleep, use less pain medication, improved range of motion, reduced swelling, and smoother digestion. (1,2)

What should you be careful of?

GreetTheDayLogoThere is so much more to you than the “Survivor” label, or the site of your surgery. You are a Whole Person and trained Oncology Massage Therapists understand what you’ve been through, and that you want to move on. But even if it’s been years in remission, there are some things about massage you need to know.

Did you know that a “deep tissue” massage is NOT appropriate for an area where lymph nodes were removed, no matter how long ago? A massage that is too firm around lymph node removal may cause a secondary injury called Lymphedema. Disclosing your complete health and treatment history will allow your therapist to adjust the session to keep you safe. Bone weakness due to radiation, and chemo-induced neuropathy are also reasons to have a more gentle massage. However, if these conditions are restricted to small areas of the body, you can still have deep tissue massage on the rest of you.

What to expect during massage?

breastcancer braceletsYour therapist should take a complete health history, including any complications of Cancer or lasting side effects of treatment such as neuropathy or lymph node removal. But your therapist should also ask about other conditions or injuries you may have. You and your therapist should agree on goals for the session, and you should have a chance to explain your preferences for pressure, and the massage environment such as temperature, music, lighting, etc. You will always be allowed to dress in private, and will be kept covered during the massage, observing your modesty and keeping you warm.

Keeping you safe means knowing what NOT to do. You should choose a practitioner that has extra training and experience working with cancer patients and survivors. a more complicated health history indicates that the therapist’s expertise is more important. Most of all, massage should never hurt, and if it does, you should say something.

How do you choose a practitioner?

Check with your city or state to find out what the basic requirements are for massage therapists. Get a few names and numbers and start calling. Your interview should include questions about training and experience in general practice, and also experience with clients like you. Ask about office environment and policies. Massage should never hurt. A conscientious massage therapist will constantly seek your feedback during the massage to make sure that the treatment is within your comfort zone the entire time. If you don’t feel that your feedback or concerns are (or will be) addressed, you’re not in the right place. .

The Medical Fitness Network can help you find a reliable, educated massage practitioner in your area to help you ease your pain, improve range of motion and reduce muscle tension. Let massage touch your life and add to your health and wellbeing!

(1) American Massage Therapy Association. “Massage therapy can be a Valuable Component of a Wellness Program” 2008. AMTA web site, http://www.amtamassage.org/statement3.html
(2) American Massage Therapy Association Position Statements , “Massage improves sleep” 2012 AMTA Website: http://www.amtamassage.org/approved_position_statements/Massage-Therapy-Can-Help-Improve-Sleep.html

MFN Advisory Board and Industry Expert