Massage Therapy: Supporting you through Cancer Treatment

We often think of Massage as either something we do for general relaxation or to remedy sore muscles, however it is also a very powerful modality to lower stress levels, as is found with people diagnosed with various forms of cancer.

There are a myriad of massage styles that can be used with patients undergoing cancer treatment—Swedish massage (long strokes & pressure); Deep tissue massage (where muscles are tight & knotted, requiring a more intensive approach); Myotherapy (where trigger points, or muscle spasms are causing pain or limiting the range of motion); and Reflexology (where pressure on specific reflex points in the feet, hands or ears can release blockages & increase energy flow to various organ systems).

A particular massage approach that is ideal for patients who have had lymph nodes surgically removed is Lymphatic massage or drainage, which helps to move the lymph fluid through the channels, releasing waste products from the body.  This is a highly effective way to decrease swelling caused by Lymphedema, which can be a painful condition in itself (often experienced after mastectomies (i)—This study also reported no adverse events amongst the 692 women receiving massage treatment for symptom control).

There is abundant evidence that therapeutic massage helps people with cancer both physically and emotionally, and it can improve quality of life by providing relief from some of the adverse effects of treatment.  The National Institute of Health in the US analyzed experimental data from 20 studies done between 1996 and 2007 with Massage therapy being applied to cancer patients, and concluded that no adverse events occurred that were attributed to massage therapy(ii)  Moreover, most patients in the studies “looked forward to sessions with positive anticipation and expectations of pleasure, and expressed regret that sessions were ending.”  When patients had more advanced cancers, pain was by far the most frequent comment recorded before the treatment session began. Other symptoms reported by the participants included gastrointestinal problems, respiratory concerns, edema, fatigue or lack of stamina, sleep issues, and skin problems. It was concluded that relief was frequently obtained by patients for many of these issues, after one or more sessions of massage therapy.

The Canadian Cancer Society (iii) describes patients who have had difficult experiences during oncology treatments that can create tension in their muscles, and pain in their bodies, and recommends they learn how to relax and receive touch as an expression of nurturing and caring.  Under these circumstances the patients receiving massage can experience a reduction in anxiety and stress levels, as well as improved circulation and a generalized increase in personal well-being.  Positive results are often obtained re: sleep quality and reducing nausea, which commonly accompanies chemotherapy treatments.

They also advise patients to talk to their healthcare team about trying massage therapy if they experience GI Tract symptoms, respiratory concerns, edema, tension, fatigue or lack of stamina, sleep issues, and skin problems. They suggest giving the massage therapist some specifics of the cancer diagnosis, noting all treatments past and current, as well as any medicines being taken, as it will help the practitioner tailor the treatment sessions to specific needs.  For instance, if you have had radiation therapy, you may find it uncomfortable to have the treatment area touched, even lightly. So a treatment plan could include working out tension in areas of the body that are less sensitive.

A recent 10-week study of 62 patients (iv) showed that “Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN)” is one reason cancer patients often stop treatment early, and there is significant evidence that massage can improve this condition.

Note that the Canadian Cancer Society mentions these precautions— 

If you have damaged blood vessels or a bleeding disorder, such as easy bruising and bleeding or blood clots, you should not have a massage. If you are taking blood thinners, you should avoid massage or only have very gentle, light touch massage to prevent bruising and bleeding.

A common topic of concern among cancer patients involves worrying that massage in the area of a tumour could increase the flow of blood and lymph fluid, with the fear that cancer cells could break away and travel to other parts of the body. 

The evidence suggests that the speed of blood or lymph fluid circulation has nothing to do with the spread of cancer cells. (v) The Cancer Society, in reviewing the literature to date assures cancer patients that massage therapy is safe for them to use as an adjunct to the primary cancer treatments, even with Stage 4 tumours. (vii)

Feel free to contact any of the massage therapists at Solace Wellness to exchange information and determine whether Massage Therapy is a good option for your individual situation. We look forward to having that conversation and discussing the best approach for you. We would be pleased to be an integral part of your Healing Team!


(i)  Mao JJ et al.  Integrating Oncology Massage into Chemoinfusion suites:  J Oncol Pract. 2017 Mar;13(3).

(ii) Smith, Marlaine C., R.N., Ph.D., et al.   Providing Massage Therapy for People with Advanced Cancer: What to Expect.  J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Apr; 15(4): 367–371. 

(iii) URL:

(iv)  Myers, CD et al.  The value of massage therapy in cancer care.  Hematol Oncol Clin North Am. 2008 Aug;22(4):649-60

(v)  Menendez AG, Cobb R, Carvajal AR, et al. Effectiveness of massage therapy (MT) as a treatment strategy and preventive modality for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) symptoms. J Clin Oncol. 2016;34(suppl 26S; abstr 193)

(vi)  Smith, Marlaine C., op. cit.

(vii), op. cit.