How specialized massage helps cancer patients

Hands massaging shoulder blade

Advances in cancer research and treatment have given physicians and other medical professionals more weapons than ever before in the fight against cancer, from chemotherapy and highly precise surgical techniques to immunotherapy and radiation oncology.
But a growing body of research shows that non-clinical treatments can also play an important role in helping cancer patients live happier, fuller lives — and among the techniques that has shown potential is oncology massage.
Oncology massage is a modification of traditional massage techniques that allows therapists to safely and effectively work with patients suffering from cancer and the complications that can be caused by cancer treatments. According to the Society for Oncology Massage, these specialized massage treatments can decrease levels of pain, fatigue and nausea, and also help ease depression and anxiety.
“Cancer patients are often facing a lot of stressors as they’re going through treatment,” says April Thomas, a massage therapist at Tidelands HealthPoint Center for Health and Fitness who specializes in oncology massage. “But for that period of time during their massage, anxiety levels, low levels of pain and fear can be tamed or even extinguished.”

Specialized training

Not every massage therapist can deliver such important relief, however. The Society for Oncology Massage notes that patients are best served by massage therapists who, like Thomas, have received training specific to oncology massage.
The treatment is part of the broad range of care available to cancer patients through the Tidelands Health Cancer Care Network, an affiliate of MUSC Health and the region’s most comprehensive provider of cancer care.
“Oncology massage therapists use a very slow-paced touch and the pressure is very light,” Thomas says. “This can stimulate the cleansing of the lymphatic system and create a calm and peaceful experience in a rather short amount of time.”

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What sets trained oncology massage therapists apart from other therapists is their understanding of cancer and how it impacts the human body. The disease and the treatments used to combat cancer can put patients through enormous strain, so trained oncology massage therapists start every treatment session with a conversation with their patient, Thomas says.
The goal is to understand the unique situation the patient is facing and to create a massage program that can both safely and effectively help ease their pain, provide relaxation and improve their quality of life.

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