Is massage safe for cancer patients?

younique health wellbeing holistic massage relaxation

     Touch is important for people’s wellbeing, especially in times of illness. The healing touch of massage can benefit cancer patients on a physical, emotional and mental level but some people still believe that cancer is a contraindication to massage – that it shouldn’t be done at all - out of fear of spreading the cancer to other parts of the body. While contraindications do exist, they are specific and individual to each client and their cancer presentation. Some forms of massage are still able to be performed with modifications to technique, including speed and depth of pressure.


    Having a cancer diagnosis and going through treatment can be a scary and confronting time. Massage can help lessen the impact of common side-effects of conventional cancer treatments and improve quality of life. Gentle and caring touch from a skilled massage therapist can have many benefits and a “comfort-oriented massage can safely be given to people at all stages of their cancer journey.”1 It can decrease pain, anxiety and depression; reduce fatigue and nausea; improve energy levels, sleep and mental alertness; re-establish a positive connection with oneself and others, and ease the discomfort of medical procedures. A special type of massage called Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) can also help to restore function and reduce swelling - “full-body MLD can be used following active chemotherapy treatment to speed detoxification, cleanse and purify the tissues, and decrease some of the byproducts of the chemotherapy.”2

  With all these benefits, the myth of cancer being an absolute contraindication to massage still exists. The fear is that through the supposed increase of blood and lymph flow from massage the cancer may spread to other parts of the body causing the cancer to metastasis. However, that simply isn't true. According to Cancer SA, “the circulation of lymph—from massage or other movement—does not cause cancer to spread.”3 Similarly, an article from Charlotte Maxwell states, “even though lymph and blood flow swiftly to carry the [cancer] cell along its course, its ability to survive the flow, establish a site in a distant tissue, build its own blood supply, and thrive as a secondary tumor site is limited by other factors.”4 The mechanism for metastasis is more than a cancer cell moving from point A to point B.

    A thorough and honest discussion needs to take place between the therapist and the client before treatment commences and approval from their treating physician or oncologist is essential. There are times when massage is not able to be performed – in the presence of: active infection, blood clots, heart problems. Otherwise modifications are needed for the client to benefit. No deep pressure- only gentle/ therapeutic massage strokes. The speed and depth of the stroke can be adjusted to make it slower and lighter. Also, the length of time for the massage may need to be adjusted to make it shorter. Joint movements may need to be avoided altogether, especially if the bones have been compromised and any tumor sites should be avoided. Other modifications could include being flexible to fit around the clients good and bad times.

    Massage by a skilled therapist who is able to understand the need to modify their techniques and to do so accordingly can have great benefits for a cancer patient. There are therapists who specialise in MLD and oncology massage who will be able to provide safe and effective treatment for cancer patients.

    I am a Remedial Therapist skilled in Manual Lymphatic Drainage and happy to offer my services to help and care for cancer patients.





by Rayella Watts

Massage Therapist

YOUnique Health and Wellbeing

If you are interested on enjoying a massage session with Ray,

click here to book your appointment.

…With gratitude…

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