Numerous, high-quality studies have been published over the last decade demonstrating the effectiveness of massage in reducing pain, stress and anxiety in individuals with cancer. These studies have included patients of all ages (infants to elderly), timeframes (before, during and after cancer treatment) and stages of cancer (early, advanced, in remission.) Regardless of the massage technique (Swedish, light touch, etc.) and protocol (duration and schedule), the vast majority of individuals derive significant quality of life benefits.
Researchers have postulated that massage works through multiple mechanisms: increased blood and lymphatic movement, stimulates release of natural pain and stress reducing molecules (endogenous opiates and endorphins), reduced inflammation and tissue edema, etc. Whatever the mechanism(s), it is an incredibly relaxing, safe and effective therapeutic option that should be considered for anyone with a diagnosis of cancer.
In my opinion, I recommend to my patients that they select a state licensed massage therapist (LMT) who has both training and experience working with cancer. Increasingly, massage schools and courses are incorporating training in cancer massage, as there are many important issues that need to be assessed in these clients: cancer location/type, stage, prior treatments (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy), side effects/complications (lymphedema, deep vein thrombosis, immune status, bleeding/bruising risk, etc.) An experienced LMT who understands these issues will carefully consider the appropriate massage technique, pressure, safe areas to massage and signs and symptoms that should prompt a referral to their cancer care team.
In my practice, I often refer patients to cancer massage-trained LMTs. As an integrative oncologist, I think it is vital to establish an open-line of communication between all members of the cancer care team- and the LMT is an important member of this team.