October 19, 2009
Massage has healing powers--both physical and emotional--for breast cancer patients. Though it can't slow or reverse the progression of cancer, it has proven effects of reducing discomfort and leveling mood swings in women, reducing fatigue and pumping up the immune system, says breastcancer.org.
But some types of massage can be harmful in combination with radiation, chemotherapy or surgery, so it's important to find a licensed massage therapist and one who has experience with breast cancer patients. Your surgeon or oncologist can recommend one to you. Experience requirements vary by state but look for a therapist who has trained at least 500 hours, suggests breastcancer.org. In states that don't offer licenses, look for a minimum credential of CMT (Certified Massage Therapist).
The National Institutes of Health notes it's important to tell the therapist about your diagnosis and treatment plan and any side effects you've been experiencing and to ask your doctor when you're considering massage therapy.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Since deep massage involves strong pressure, this can bruise patients undergoing chemo or radiation because they may have fewer red and white blood cells, warns the American Cancer Society. It is also stressful to a system already vulnerable from chemo and radiation. Light massage is best.
If you've recently had breast surgery, don't lie on your stomach for the massage until your doctor decides it's safe.
Therapists should avoid touching any sensitive skin in areas treated by radiation. Massage and oils will irritate the affected area.
If you have had lymph nodes removed, the therapist should use only a light touch on the affected arm and underarm.
Traditional massage therapy can worsen arm lymphedema--accumulation of lymph fluid in the soft tissues. A therapist should avoid this area completely, says breastcancer.org.
Patients receiving radiation may often find themselves allergic to oils and lotions.
While many studies suggest massage relieves symptoms and has promising benefits for cancer patients in the short term, the journal Current Oncology notes long-term physical or psychological benefits need further study.
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