Going through a cancer treatment often leaves patients feeling achy and unhappy in their bodies. A relaxing massage can make a world of difference, which is why spas and clinics shouldn’t be afraid to offer their services to those affected by cancer.
For years, there has been an unspoken consensus that massages and other spa treatments can spread cancer cells throughout the body, leaving therapists hesitant to treat cancer patients. The truth is that massages don’t actually pose a risk for cancer patients, and can in fact be incredibly positive in such a challenging time.
“Science has proven that massages do not spread cancer cells. Specific oncology massage, and other related spa treatments performed by appropriately trained professionals, has no more impact on circulation than exercise and normal physical movement,” explains Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko, Director of Wellac Lifestyle, a wellness centre for those that have been affected by cancer.
“Lymphatic and general blood circulation occurs naturally as we move. Research has shown that cancer develops and spreads because of changes to a cell’s DNA and genetic mutations. Having said this, tumour or treatment sites should not be massaged to avoid discomfort or pressure on the affected area and underlying organs. Light, relaxing massage (oncology massage) by a trained therapist, can safely be given to people at all stages of cancer.”
According to the Cancer Council Australia, studies have shown that massages can even alleviate certain side effects of chemotherapy, such as pain, fatigue, nausea, and even anxiety and depression. “Other benefits may include improvements in sleep, managing neuropathy, quality of life, mental clarity, and also meaningful social interaction,” Dr Thornton-Benko adds. Another popular treatment for cancer patients is reflexology.
“Reflexology is a treatment that is very gentle as only the feet, face, ears or hands need to be accessed to receive the therapy. The human body is divided into different zones. Reflexology works by stimulating nerve endings within these zones, promoting relaxation. There is some evidence that reflexology can help people relax and cope with stress and anxiety, promote pain relief, lift mood and give a feeling of wellbeing. It may also relieve some of the side effects related to certain cancer treatments.”
It’s not only the physical touch that clients enjoy – the entire experience is a welcome change from the challenging and physically painful cancer treatment. “The therapies are often given with background calming music and using soothing non-irritant oil. In appropriate circumstances aromatherapy may also be used, although skill and care has to be taken with essential oils to avoid unwanted effects.”
If specialty massages and reflexology for cancer patients is something you would like to offer at your spa or clinic, it is wise to invest in special training. “Specialised training is available for previously qualified remedial massage therapists and previously trained general reflexologists to give them the tools and knowledge to work safely and effectively with clients/patients who have a current or past history of cancer. This training allows them to take into account any contraindications that may be present and to design and implement a safe and effective treatment plan for the client.”
“Factors such as positioning, pressure, length and frequency of treatment are all taken into account, as well as if there are areas to avoid if lymph nodes have been removed, or if any ports or stomas are present,” says Dr Thornton-Benko. “Too deep pressure in the wrong area could possibly lead to lymphoedema, or increase severity of symptoms such as fatigue. Furthermore, massage and wellness/spa techniques may need to be adapted for patients/clients who are currently having cancer treatment, are weak, have bone fractures; arthritis; have heart problems; or are pregnant or breastfeeding. Therefore it is definitely recommended to go to a therapist and wellness/spa centre who have the extra skills, experience and oncology training.”