Oncology Massage is the skillful adaptation of remedial massage techniques to adjust for the many possible side effects of cancer and cancer treatment with a focus on the psycho-social aspects also. Oncology Massage therapists (OMTs) already have a massage or Bowen Therapy qualification and we teach them to understand the effects of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery on the body and what adjustments need to be made to not just work safely but to work really effectively ensuring the maximum benefit for the client.
Adjustments in positioning is a large part of the training as not all clients will be able to receive massage on a massage table. Many will be in a hospital bed or reclining chair especially if receiving chemotherapy or may have other restrictions due to surgery or lymphoedema. Therapists understand that patients may be at heightened risk of infection if they have a low white blood count or at risk of bruising if they have low platelets so adjustments are constantly made to use appropriate pressure. Patients may have Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN) have had recent surgery or have ports, stomas or catheters and likewise need to be positioned correctly and have a therapist who knows how to work safely around these sites so as not to cause complications. It is a very gentle massage but profoundly relaxing which is where part of the benefit lies, therapists also have skills to be able to address some of those post surgical issues such as scarring.
Proven benefits of Oncology Massage:
1. Reduced side effects. This client population often experience pain from surgery or disease process, fatigue from radiotherapy and medications, nausea from chemotherapy. lymphedema from surgery and depression and anxiety. Massage has been shown to help reduce these common side-effects of cancer treatment.
In 2004 a study was conducted by the Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Centre, the largest cancer centre in the world and the largest study to date. Over a three year period nearly 1300 patients representing over 3300 treatments showed the benefits and reduction in symptoms on average at 50%. The study reports that scores for outpatients did not return to baseline and benefits were noted to last over the 48 hours of the study. The study concluded that “Massage therapy appears to be an uncommonly non-invasive and inexpensive means of symptom control for patients with serious chronic illness. It is non-invasive, inexpensive, comforting, free of side-effects and greatly appreciated by recipients. This non-randomised study suggests that it is also markedly effective”
2. Improved mood and immunity. Another study over 5 weeks which provided massage sessions three times a week to breast cancer patients reported increased serotonin, dopamine, natural killer T cells, lymphocytes and reduced depression and hostility.
Deb Hart, a Teacher/Trainer, says “my own experience with a client who charted her blood results and chemotherapy side effects found a dramatic difference in her side effects following chemotherapy infusion if massage was provided on the day of infusion. She also noted that her neutrophil count doubled if massage was provided on week 3 of her chemotherapy cycle. Obviously more research would be great!”
Oncology Massage Therapists are now in all states in Australia and a focus is on regional centres which have a cancer centre and some level of cancer treatment. Many of our therapists have been trained in the Austin Hospital where oncology massage is now provided by Oncology Massage Therapists on staff.
Anne-Marie Halligan and Deb Hart are the SA/WA Facilitators. Deb Hart is a Board member of Oncology Massage Ltd, a Not For Profit organisation. She and Anne-Marie both hold positions on the Leadership Support Team working closely with the Managing Director and other facilitators around the country.