Taboo? Massage and cancer.

We love to think of massage as something akin to pampering, not really essential but good to have every now and then, for relaxation or after a hard session at gym.
You’d expect the blog of a massage clinic to challenge this view, claim that regular massage helps you live a better life in so many ways… And that’s true, of course. But today I want to mention a different group of people – those for whom massage, because of a medical condition, is a necessity rather than a choice.

Distressed older woman
Spoken of in hushed tones

Cancer is one such medical conditions.

Often it’s referred to in hushed tones, as the word itself is too evocative to use. It does conjure up images of protracted suffering, of therapies laden with massive side effects. An insidious illness eating away at the body it’s in. And – it’s widespread. We all know someone who’s been affected, directly or indirectly. Some of us have it – and of those, the lucky ones beat it and pray it won’t come back.

Massage is not a cure, of course. As a ‘complementary therapy’, it can help manage ill side effects of cancer therapies such as radiation, chemo or surgery, and enable sufferers to better cope with the experience for their own comfort and psychological well-being. The Cancer Council lists massage among several complementary therapies that, while not aiming at curing the cancer, are useful to help control symptoms such as pain and fatigue.

[There’s an important distinction between complementary and alternative therapies. Alternative therapies propose to cure cancer with methods not scientifically proved, which in some cases have been demonstrated to foster cancer growth or reduce the effect of conventional therapies. Complementary therapies – such as massage – have been proved to help in mitigating the side effects of conventional therapies and improve quality of life].

Distressed manA main concern of cancer sufferers is that massage can help spread it to healthy cells.

The Australian Cancer Council devotes a full page of information to cancer and massage, and deals with this common and justifiable (although not justified, as it turns out) concern. It says that “light, relaxing massage can safely be given to people at all stages of cancer.” It adds that tumour areas should be avoided, and suggests that sufferers should seek doctor advice if they have any specific concerns. Those who look for more detailed information will find it here.

The benefits of oncology massage can be extensive. They’ll vary depending on the type and stage of cancer. During all stages, however, the sensation of human touch can be vitally important to a person whose main source of physical contact is the medical treatment that causes them such discomfort.

Many studies – mostly American – have documented the positive effects that massage can have on relieving the symptoms of anxiety and depression which is particularly important for patients in the lead up to, and throughout, surgery and other treatments. Humans are biologically designed to respond to touch, and it is this stimulation that triggers the brain to shift into a calmer state. The gentle, consolatory nature of massage encourages deep relaxation and assists in increasing mental clarity and alertness, giving patients some respite during what often is the most trying time of their lives.

After a session with a professional massage therapist, many cancer sufferers have reported to having more restful sleep, eased constipation, improved self-body image and increased energy, which they find extremely beneficial during all stages of their condition. Massage is also useful in the days or weeks proceeding other treatments, whether it be surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy; the most notable benefit is reduced pain and nausea but also a reduction in the swelling often associated with chemotherapy.

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