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Massage Therapy & Chemo Side Effects

Chemotherapy can often result in fatigue, nausea, and sleep disruption. From a personal perspective, I experienced debilitating fatigue and questioned my oncologist as to whether massage would help. At that time, five years ago, there was no supportive data that this complementary therapy was effective.

Types of massage

Massage is defined as the rubbing of skin and muscles in the body. There are different forms of massage including Swedish, aromatherapy, and deep-tissue. Deep-tissue is usually not used during active chemotherapy.1

The general health benefits of massage include :

  • Physical- reduce inflammation and swelling, improve circulation, help sore muscles and reduce stress hormones.
  • Emotional- helps patients relax, causes release of endorphins which reduce pain, a good distraction.

For me, massage therapy physically feels good and is emotionally calming. I continue to schedule massage therapy as a cancer survivor.

Research findings on massage

A systematic review of studies on aromatherapy and massage found that massage consistently reduced anxiety and depression. It also lessened nausea and pain but not as consistently.2

A large study examined the effects of massage therapy in thirteen hundred patients with cancer. Overall the patients reported a reduction of pain, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, and depression.2

Research shows that massage of muscle and soft tissue does not spread cancer cells.

Current research has demonstrated that massage may:

  • Reduce chemotherapy nausea and vomiting
  • Lessen stress and anxiety
  • Reduce cancer fatigue. I felt less exhausted after having massage therapy. It would have been helpful if I had started the massage earlier in my treatment.
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve quality of life
  • Reduce pain1,2

It is important to discuss the use of massage therapy with your oncologist before beginning.

Caution may be necessary in some situations. For example, if your white blood cells (WBCs) are low, you want to avoid any possible sources of infection. Bruising may occur if your platelets are low. If your cancer has involved the bones, you may be at increased risk of fracture.

Getting started with massage

First and most importantly, talk with your oncologist. Discuss with your physician the symptoms that you would like relieved and whether massage therapy is appropriate.

Look for a licensed massage therapist who specializes in working with cancer patients. Your oncologist or healthcare provider may suggest someone. Your cancer care center may also be able to provide contact information.

Massage therapy is considered a type of complementary therapy and used to treat the whole patient. Complementary therapy is used in combination with conventional treatments. It cannot treat the cancer by itself, but it can help reduce side effects and improve the quality of life and wellbeing of the patient and cancer survivor.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Blood-Cancer.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Massage Therapy for People With Cancer. Verywell Health. Available at https://www.verywellhealth.com/massage-for-cancer-2249314.
  2. Massage and cancer key questions. Cancer Council. Available at https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/17958/b1000/massage-and-cancer-42/massage-and-cancer-benefits-of-touch/.

Comments

  • Carole McCue author
    8 months ago

    Ann,
    Glad massage helped your daughter.Yolanda is correct, certain body areas may need to be avoided. It is wise to inform your physician just to play it safe.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    8 months ago

    Massage therapy really helped my daughter. She also used acupuncture to help her feel better. My belief is, if it doesn’t hurt and might help then go for it.

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    9 months ago

    I totally recommend massages. I lived by this sentiment before and after. The only caution is to be careful of the types of treatment you receive, especially when it comes to massage near the spine area (if you have lytic lesions).

  • Ann Harper moderator
    8 months ago

    Soon I will be visiting a retreat for cancer patients and I have to get clearance for the massage they offer there. Who knew?!

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi Ann, yes, it never hurts to be too careful with this.

  • Carole McCue author
    8 months ago

    Ann,
    A retreat sounds exciting. Check out the meditation, reflexology and massage. Enjoy

  • Carole McCue author
    9 months ago

    Ann,
    Try to explore special sales for massages. Sometimes cancer society may offer reduced prices.
    I have also started reflexology sessions which are less expensive. They focus on lower extremities but do include some massage to neck and back. Studies are reporting reflexology can also have positive effects.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    8 months ago

    I would love to try reflexology. Thank you for sharing.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    9 months ago

    I’ve only had one massage. That’s because of the expense. I did enjoy it though.

  • Ronni Gordon moderator
    9 months ago

    Ann, do you have anything like a Cancer Connection near you? I don’t know if it would be called that, but we have one in our area called The Cancer Connection, and it offers free services, such as massages, to cancer survivors.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    8 months ago

    I just looked up Cancer Connection and the closest one is in Massachusetts – too far for me, but thanks anyway.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    8 months ago

    I dont know of one, but I will definitely look into it. Thank you so much!

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