Massage therapy proves beneficial for cancer sufferers

AUSTRALIAN cancer experts have supported a study by the American Institutes of Health which found massage therapy may have immediate benefits on pain and mood among patients with advanced cancer.

The Cancer Council of New South Wales said scientific research had shown that massage could reduce pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression and nausea as well as improving sleep, quality of life and mental clarity and alertness.

The council’s Professor Jim Bishop said massage therapy could benefit the physical, emotional and mental state of people at all stages of cancer.

“Many people with cancer wonder whether any complementary therapies can help them. Massage and other gentle bodywork techniques that focus on the positive effects of human touch are very popular complementary therapies,” Professor Bishop said.

“Instead of being used to work out knots, detoxify the body, or increase one’s range of motion, massage may become a way to lower anxiety and pain, improve energy, or decrease nausea.

“It is a way to feel more loved and helps to re-establish a connection with oneself and others. It may ease the discomfort of a medical procedure or help pass the time while waiting for a consultation with the doctor.

“Some benefits people have described from receiving massage include feeling whole again, being able to share feelings in an informal setting, re-establishing a positive body image and rebuilding hope.”

Nepean Hospital oncologist Dr Georgette Danyal said different types of massage could be administered to cancer patients.

“There has been a lot of work that has been done on the introduction of massage therapies as part of the service for cancer patients,” Dr Danyal said.

“Just general massage therapy is recommended where appropriate as a relaxation strategy. A lot of cancer patients are quite anxious when they’re undergoing treatment or just after they’ve been diagnosed, so sometimes gentle massage is done to help a lot with relaxation for these patients.

“If patients have had breast cancer and they’ve had their lymph nodes removed they are at risk of developing lymphoedema and if they do develop it then we do a very specialised lymphatic massage.

“Lymphatic massage will basically assist in stimulating lymphatic drainage in the system and that will assist in reduction of a swollen oedema – they will be able to feel relief from their discomfort.

“Another effect of the massage is relaxation too because it is a very gentle type of massage – a lot of the patients that come to see us after lymphatic massage say they feel so calm and relaxed.”

Dr Danyal said frequency of treatment varied from patient to patient.

“Some patients go weekly to have [massage therapy] done and they feel that by doing it weekly it helps and it is frequent enough but it does vary,” she said.

“Cost of course is a big issue with it as well because a lot of the patients that come in are not in a financial position to be able to access this service at a reasonable cost.”

Professor Bishop said while massage therapy had proved beneficial, it was most successful when administered in conjunction with conventional medicines.