Apr 2014 26

Massage and cancer

By: Dave Wheeler

Section 4 of the Cancer Act of 1939 makes it an offence for anyone to advertise “to treat any person for cancer, or prescribe any remedy.”


Quite rightly, nobody except a medically qualified doctor can claim to treat cancer. Anyone else that does is a quack.

But there are secondary symptoms of cancer - like anxiety, stress, pain and scarring which can sometimes be relieved by non-medical interventions, like massage. The small-print is important though: understanding the “sometimes” can make all the difference.

It might sound a bit negative, but let’s look first at when massage might not be appropriate.


The contraindications to massage

A contraindication is a reason not to treat someone with a particular procedure. The most important contraindications, when massage needs to discussed with your medical doctor, are:


1.  Melanoma - if you have skin cancer, you should be cautious about getting the area around the melanoma massaged. Check with your doctor first:

  • for basal cell carcinoma (BCC) your doctor will probably ok you to have massage as long as the area directly over the lesion is avoided;
  • for squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) or cancer of the melanocytes your doctor may advise that the whole area surrounding the melanoma is avoided, or may even suggest that you don’t have a massage at all.

2.  Regardless of the type of cancer, during radiotherapy you may find that some local areas of your skin are burned. Obviously these areas need to be avoided for at least 48 hours, and sometime longer. Again, your doctor will advise you.


When massage can help relieve the secondary symptoms of cancer

So we’ve looked at when massage may not be appropriate if you’re a cancer patient. But the good news is that there are many times when massage can help you cope with the emotional roller-coaster.

Massage during medical treatment

The anxiety and discomfort associated with medical treatments for cancer obviously cause a lot stress. Massage works on the parasympathetic nervous system  to slow your heart-rate down, to calm the blood flow to stressed muscles and slow down your breathing rate, leaving you feeling relaxed and calm (see the previous blog on relaxation).  

Massage after medical treatment

As well as helping you remain relaxed and deal with the stress of your condition, massage of scar tissue any time from 8 weeks after surgery may help to promote healing of the scar.


Massage for cancer patients

What you want is a slow relaxing massage that just makes you feel better. There will be times when a relaxing massage of your back, shoulders and legs can make all the difference in the world. But any of those areas need to be avoided, then a massage of the hands and feet can be just as good at de-stressing you.

As Cancer Research UK note on their website, it’s especially important for your to you make sure that your massage therapist is fully qualified. Don’t be afraid to ask to see their qualification - a qualified therapist won’t baulk at all.

In the UK, medical massage isn’t recognised like it is in the States, so make sure that you choose your massage therapist with care. Talk to them on the phone before making an appointment, and if you’re not convinced that they’re right for you, you can always try someone else.

As ever, if you think I can help, give me a call.