The Benefits of Massage Therapy for Breast Cancer
One of the things that you might not know about me is that I am a massage therapist, so the subject of the benefits of massage therapy for breast cancer is near and dear to my heart.
As a breast cancer survivor myself, I can give firsthand testimony that massage therapy is a wonderful and beneficial thing when you’ve been told those awful words “I am sorry but you have breast cancer.” Nurturing touch can mean so much at a time like this, and it truly does have many benefits as you progress through the gamut of treatments and uncertainties.
Some doctors and even some massage schools will tell you that massage therapy is contraindicated (not to be performed) with cancer patients, and I would very much like to dispel that myth. There are many benefits of massage therapy for many types of cancer, but today I’m going to focus on its benefits for those going through breast cancer.
Massage Through The Ages
Massage has been used as a therapy for centuries, the earliest known reference to it being portrayed on Egyptian tombs. It was also mentioned as early as the 700 BC in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, an ancient Chinese medical text. Massage therapy has been used traditionally in many different cultures including China, India, Japan, Korea, Egypt, Rome, Greece, Mesopotamia and Thailand, for various ailments, pain relief, stress relief, but also for beauty.
In modern times, massage therapy has had a rather odious connection to overcome, just think of the words “massage parlour” and you’ll know what I mean by that. That connection in people’s minds has taken YEARS to overcome and it still annoys me when I am in cities that advertise massage when it is blatantly obvious that’s not what they are selling at all. But I digress…
Is Massage Safe For People With Breast Cancer?
The answer is a resounding YES. Massage can safely be given to people at all stages of breast cancer, but it should be performed by a trained massage therapist who has had additional training in oncology massage, or at the very least by a skilled therapist who is knowledgeable about lymphedema, lymphedema risk, bone metastases, risk of deep vein thrombosis, and suppressed blood cell populations.
An old myth warned that massage could, by increasing circulation, spread cancer cells and promote metastasis since tumor cells travel through the body via the lymphatic system, which is a network of vessels, organs and nodes through which lymphatic fluid, or lymph, flows. We now know that movement and exercise increase circulation much more than a brief massage can, and that routine increases in circulation occur many times daily in response to the metabolic demands of our tissues. In fact, physical activity is normally encouraged in people with cancer and there is NO reason to discourage massage or some form of skilled touch because it offers so very many wonderful benefits.
The Specific Benefits of Massage Therapy for Breast Cancer
These are the things that we know for sure about the benefits of massage therapy:
- relieves pain
- reduces fatigue
- helps to alleviate nausea
- reduces stress, anxiety and depression
- improves sleep
- helps nerve damage
- improves mental clarity and alertness
- boosts immune system
- reduces discomfort of lymphedema
The great thing about massage therapy is that it treats the whole person, not just the symptoms of disease. While massage doesn’t treat the cancer itself, it does help reduce the side effects caused by conventional treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery and radiation and improves quality of life in ways we are only beginning to understand.
I Utilize Massage Therapy Daily For Continued Breast Health
I actually also use massage therapy daily on my own breasts, combined with certain essential oils because of their research-backed spectrum of pro-health activities (we aren’t allowed to say anti-cancer!). For more information on which oils I use, see my page Essential Oils for Overall Health and Specific Health Problems.
I know my readers like to have evidence based medicine – we want PROOF, don’t we? So here it is, and there is a lot of it:
A 2008 study done by the National Institutes of Health evaluated the efficacy of massage versus simple touch for decreasing pain and symptom distress and improving quality of life among persons with advanced cancer. It was found that both groups experienced significant improvement in pain relief, physical and emotional distress, as well as quality of life, however, the immediate improvement in pain and mood was greater in the group receiving massage. 1
A 2004 study found that massage and aromatherapy consistently reduced anxiety and depression in cancer patients and that massage also helped decrease nausea and pain. 2
A 2014 Iranian study found that massage therapy greatly assisted patients with breast cancer with quality of sleep. 3
A 2008 study looked at the safety and effectiveness of massage in reducing stress hormone levels in patients with blood cancer and concluded that massage significantly reduced the levels of stress hormones in these patients. 4
A 2001 study indicated that massage improved immunity for adolescents with HIV 5 and, more recently, a 2010 study showed massage had very positive effects on immune function for normal healthy individuals. 6 By the way, this does not mean that you have to be normal and healthy to enjoy an immunity boost from massage therapy. I employed massage therapy all during chemotherapy (and I still do) and I know that it was one of the things that helped me to stay very well, despite a practically non-existent immune system.
A 2013 study showed that ovarian cancer patients receiving massage felt significantly less hopeless and enjoyed a better quality of life.7
A 2002 study of the effects of massage on hospitalized cancer patients showed that for those receiving therapeutic massage there were improvements in pain, sleep quality, symptom distress, and anxiety. 8
My advice? If you are going through breast cancer, go and get a massage from a qualified massage therapist – you have nothing to lose and much to gain!
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