The Case for Oncology Massage

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Why Study Oncology Massage?

Massage therapists are drawn toward working with different groups. Some have an affinity for athletes, others for the elderly, and those reading this website may feel an inclination toward people who are medically complex, such as cancer patients. Gentler therapies may align with the personality of some therapists, or it may be a good match for the therapist who has overworked their own body throughout the years and wants to slow down.

The most conscious motivation is the desire to help or serve. Practitioners often have a goal to ease physical or emotional pain, to be a soothing, nurturing presence, to give back to the community, or to be part of transforming healthcare. Therapists have much to offer the person affected by cancer, but there is also much to receive from them.

Massage therapist with patient

Reprinted with permission from Tracy Walton

At some point in their life, approximately a third of women and half of men will be diagnosed with cancer. For that reason, all massage therapists will encounter clients and patients who have received treatment for cancer. There is rarely a reason to deny a client the benefit of massage therapy, however, people who are in treatment will always require adjustments to their massage session plan and those who have a history of cancer treatment may also need adaptations indefinitely.

Cancer is an umbrella term for more than 100 separate diseases and there are numerous ways to treat these diseases. Learning to navigate the complex nature of the various side effects requires specialty training. To practice oncology massage therapy, therapists need to know what questions to ask clients, when to ask them, and how to use the client’s answers in creating a safe and effective massage treatment plan. It is essential that practitioners can communicate confidently and sensitively with clients in difficult circumstances.

A client requesting oncology massage therapy wants a massage therapist who is well-prepared and practiced, someone who has built their skills through case studies and real-world exercises. They are searching for signs that they can trust the therapist from the first interview question to the last touch. They need to feel seen, heard, and served. Highly trained oncology massage professionals will help change the patient’s experience of cancer.

Oncology massage does not replace standard care but is combined with it to facilitate a new level of healing. The practitioner who specializes in oncology massage will have the opportunity to work as a team member with the patient’s oncologist, surgeon, nurses, physical therapist, and other integrative practitioners.