Massage therapy is special in a number of ways. It’s personal, it’s customizable, it’s hands on, and most of all, it can be used to help alleviate symptoms of injuries or illnesses in ways that other therapies are unable.
Oncology massage is just one subset of massage therapy. This specialized massage therapy is for those who are living with cancer or who have survived cancer. It takes into consideration the affects of treatment, the after affects of treatment, lingering symptoms of the cancer itself, and other complications that a patient might be experiencing. Unlike sports massage therapy or circulatory massage, oncology massage is typically much softer and even-toned in order to ensure the comfort of the patient.
When a patient comes in for oncology massage for the first time, it’s essential to ask a series of questions to gauge exactly where the patient is in their treatment, how the treatment has affected the patient, and what the patient’s energy levels are. Even if the patient stopped treatment long ago, some effects can be residual.
Many oncology patients undergo chemotherapy, which is used to defeat rapidly proliferating cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be given orally, or through an IV. This IV is typically given through a port, which, on most patients, can be found below the clavicle. Always ask if a patient has a port or any other medical device on the body before beginning a massage so that these areas can be avoided and left undamaged.
It’s always important to ask about blood counts, which can be reduced during treatments.. If a patient’s red blood cell count has been lowered, for example, they may be more temperature sensitive and may require more draping to stay warm during the massage. If white blood cell count has been lowered, their immune suppression may be compromised, so it would be necessary to warn the patient if you’re feeling even slightly under the weather. If platelet counts are reduced, it’s important to use lighter pressure to avoid bleeding or bruising.
Radiation and chemotherapy induce a variety of side effects, including nausea, sensitive skin, peripheral neuropathy, and brain fog. In order to provide the most comfortable and effective massage for an oncology patient, ask about these symptoms to avoid discomfort. If any of these symptoms present, it may be necessary to adjust pressure or avoid certain areas. If a patient experiences nausea, it may be good to consider positioning the patient near a restroom or source of water so that they can easily find relief.
Massage therapists have the responsibility of keeping patients safe and comfortable. For oncology patients, this means taking every potential symptom into consideration and adjusting the parameters of massage to avoid all possible discomfort. With open communication between the massage therapist and the patient, oncology massage can provide immense relief for cancer patients and cancer survivors alike.