There is some debate over whether or not massage is dangerous for cancer patients. The short answer to this question is that it depends, and patients should talk to their oncologists. Cancer is extremely complex, and because there are so many types of cancer, there are some cases in which massage is dangerous and others in which it can actually be quite beneficial. Especially during treatment, it is important for the patient to consult a medical professional about which massage or bodywork modalities would be safe for him or her.
In all cases, cancer massage requires special training, and patients should go to a massage therapist or nurse who has been specifically trained to give massage to cancer patients. It is important to use a very light, delicate touch, and to avoid putting stress on radiation sites, sites where surgery has been performed, or tumor locations. A massage therapist who has learned to work with cancer patients will also be knowledgeable about which massage creams and oils are safe, and he or she will have the experience to make the massage comfortable and enjoyable. Massage can be dangerous in the hands of an inexperienced therapist, so patients must make sure to find one who is certified and highly recommended.
The primary reason some people worry that massage is dangerous for cancer patients is that there is a fear that massage may cause cancers to metastasize, because it stimulates the flow of lymphatic fluid in the body. Studies have suggested that this may be the case with some deep tissue massage modalities, but that gentle massage is probably not going to lead to a spread of the cancer. Of more concern is lymphedema, a condition caused by pooling of lymph in the limbs; a massage therapist who is not experienced in working with cancer patients could cause this condition by accident.
Many people believe that touch therapy is very beneficial, especially for cancer patients who sometimes feel very isolated and frightened. A very gentle massage can help reduce stress for cancer patients, and reductions in stress levels can benefit the immune system as well as one's outlook on life. In cases where full body massage may not be appropriate, therapists can also offer head and neck massage or reflexology to their clients.
Some hospitals even offer massage and other therapy services to their oncology patients, indicating their position in the debate about whether massage is dangerous for cancer patients or not. Whether a patient chooses to use a therapist provided by the hospital or one recommended by a member of his or her medical team, he or she should always discuss the illness with the therapist before beginning a session, and be aware that some massage therapists may ask to see a note from a medical professional to confirm that he or she believes that massage is safe. It is also extremely important for the patient to communicate as soon as he or she feels any pain or discomfort during a session; during an oncology massage, clients should feel a sense of comfort and well being, with no tension, pain, or stress.