The Right Touch


People with cancer are often cautious about doing anything that sits outside what their doctor or oncologist have told them. And so they go without massage, beauty treatments and other complementary therapies because they are afraid.

Beauty therapists have a unique opportunity to contribute to their cancer clients’ quality of life and allow them to do something that is just for them.

But without appropriate training, therapists can subject themselves and their clients to unnecessary stress because both parties are worried whether they are doing the right thing.

For this reason, many beauty therapy businesses and day spas turn away clients with cancer, creating even more of a barrier between people with cancer and those who are healthy and thriving. Others ask for a doctor’s certificate before starting any beauty treatments.

These practices, while promoting safety, further highlight how much a client’s life has changed with their diagnosis. All the client wants is a little pampering and to feel ‘normal’ for a little while.

On the other hand, some businesses take very little client history and are unaware of the risks of treating a person with cancer (and who are not manifesting obvious symptoms) by taking a ‘business as usual’ approach.

Beauty therapists with oncology massage training can see people with cancer at any stage of their treatment and will be skilled at taking specific medical histories so that they know what they can and can’t do.

By proudly stating that therapists in a clinic have been trained to understand cancer and the treatments, cancer patients or those with a history of cancer will trust that they are in the right place.

Therapists who have had training in oncology massage also acquire the ability to adjust their massage to take into consideration the many side effects of cancer and its treatment. 

Oncology massage is all about pressure, site and position. It is a gentle pressure technique that triggers the relaxation response and creates a feeling of peace and tranquility for the client.

With that comes a reduction in pain, anxiety, nausea, fatigue and depression and can be used with any clients who are in a fragile physical and emotional state. Even your regular clients will benefit from the total relaxation that is oncology massage!

The reference to ‘site’ is about knowing where on the body you can work safely: are there areas compromised by lymph node removal or other treatment? 

The reference to ‘position’ is to be sure the client is as comfortable as possible during the massage session, often using bolsters and pillows for support. Creating a space where the client is always going to tell you if they need to re-position themselves during the session for total comfort. It’s all about them!

There is a tidal wave of demand for oncology massage that grows by day. More and more of our population are starting to understand the benefits of complementary therapies, as both a preventative and an enhancement to wellbeing.

Oncology massage-trained therapists know how to interface with the medical community and support clients through chemotherapy cycles in a drug-free way to reduce many of the side effects. 

There is an increased awareness around this which has driven the greater demand with organisations such as Breast Cancer Network of Australia (BCNA), Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) and the Cancer Council, now using Oncology Massage Ltd’s National Therapist Listing to help find suitably qualified therapists.

Oncology massage now also has a growing place in many public hospitals around Australia and worldwide.

In a spa setting, massage confers a confirmation of caring, it feels good and the benefits of this cannot be underestimated. The success of the Look Good, Feel Better program demonstrates this perfectly!

Studies have shown that gentle massage, such as that taught by Oncology Massage Ltd, reduces many of the symptoms of cancer and cancer treatment including pain, anxiety, fatigue, depression and nausea.

Enhanced neurotransmitters and immune function have also been documented in women with breast cancer. 

Complementary therapies can clearly support cancer patients and members of the public can have faith in the fact that a beauty therapist trained in oncology massage principles will safely and effectively treat them taking into account all the complexities of their cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment.

The Oncology Massage for Beauty Therapists course teaches practitioners about the science of cancer, cancer treatments, appropriate products for cancer clients, and the importance of organic and safe massage techniques that trigger the relaxation response.

Oncology Massage Ltd (a registered charity and not for profi) toffers regular training courses. For more information and to register visit

 * Kylie Ochsenbein is General Manager and a director of Oncology Massage Ltd.


Hernandez-Reif M, Ironside G, Field T, Hurley J, Katz G, Diego M, Weiss S, Fletcher MA, Schanberg S, Kuhn C, Burman I, 2004, Breast cancer patients have improved immune and neuroendocrine functions following massage therapy, Journal of Psychosomatic Research 57:45-52

Cassileth BR, Vickers AJ, 2004, Massage Therapy for Symptom Control: Outcome Study at a Major Cancer Centre, Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 28:3:244-250


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