Massage and Cancer

Published on 28th June 2021


Massage is one of the oldest therapies there is. It’s now often offered as part of cancer care in hospital wards, hospices, community health services and in some GP surgeries.

Massage  can be used to relax the mind and body, promote sleep, relieve tension, improve the flow of blood and lymph (fluid in the lymphatic system), reduce blood pressure and enhance mood. One large observational study of people with cancer suggested that massage therapy reduced symptoms such as pain, nausea, anxiety, depression and fatigue.

There are many different types of massage therapy. Some types are soft and gentle; other types are more vigorous and possibly uncomfortable. People with cancer who want to try massage are generally advised to try gentle massage and avoid vigorous deep tissue massage.

Some people worry that massage could cause cancer cells to spread to other parts of their body, but research has not found any evidence of this.

Massage therapists working with people with cancer should be properly trained and qualified, with knowledge of cancer and its treatments. Relatives or friends are sometimes taught how to do basic massage, so that they can support the person with cancer.

During massage it’s important not to apply deep or intense pressure:

  • near any area affected by cancer
  • to areas of tenderness
  • to areas being treated with radiotherapy (during and for a few weeks after the treatment)
  • around intravenous catheters (such as central lines)
  • to areas affected by blood clots. 
  • It’s also important to be particularly gentle if the cancer has spread to the bones.

The specialist cancer support charity often have courses to help therapists work safely. You will learn aboout different cancers when you study the pathologies section of your anatomy, physiology and pathology certificate course. 


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