Breast cancer is scary and no one understands that like another woman who has gone through it too.
— Mindy Sterling

 

Massage and Breast Cancer

I have worked with women affected by breast cancer for many years but it wasn't until my own diagnosis and treatment in 2017 that I truly understood the unique challenges we face when dealing with this disease. In addition to the fear of the diagnosis itself, breast surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy can create physical and psychological trauma as our body changes with these treatments.

Whether you have just received a diagnosis of breast cancer, are currently undergoing treatment, or are years out, massage therapy with a trained oncology massage and lymphatic therapist like myself can offer many benefits. Some of these include:

  • reduced anxiety and symptoms of depression

  • reduced pain perception, fatigue and nausea during treatment

  • reduction of scar tissue and improved appearance of scars

  • increased range of shoulder motion on affected side

  • self-care to reduce risk of or manage lymphedema

  • relief from chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), even years out of treatment

  • increased sleep quality

  • improved body image

For some women losing our breasts can affect the way we view ourselves and our identity as a woman. Whether you have chosen to undergo a lumpectomy, single or double mastectomy, reconstruct or remain flat, massage therapy can help you find comfort in your body as it is now.

“Oncology Massage” incorporates modifications and adjustments to traditional massage techniques in order to meet the unique and changing needs of someone in treatment for cancer or with a history of cancer. A safe massage therapy care plan generally revolves around the side effects (both short- and long-term) of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. The changes that might be made to a massage that make it an “oncology massage” can fall under any number of categories, but typically they will be related to session length, pressure, position of the client on the table, and areas of specific compromise or concern like mediports, skin and bone fragility, and risk of lymphedema.

 

IMPORTANT:

Oncology massage should only be provided by a Massage Therapist who has received training in the specifics of cancer and cancer treatment. This training is actually more about cancer and less about massage. A written treatment plan can be presented to your doctor for approval. I am a Preferred Practitioner with the Society for Oncology Massage and have completed over 200 hours of training and hands-on practical work in cancer, lymphedema, and end of life care, including scar tissue work specifically for women affected by breast cancer.

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I think God sent you to me.

I always look forward to my sessions and feel so much better when I am done.

— R.B.

 

Individual Session Pricing:

New Client: 75 mins* - $95

30 mins - $45

60 mins - $80

90 mins - $120

*New Client Sessions for Oncology Massage require extended intakes and allow ample time for this as well as 45-60 minutes of working time.

Complete Oncology Package: $385

Five (5) sessions focused around the needs and concerns experienced by many people undergoing or living with a history of cancer and cancer treatments. Sessions include a variety of hands on work and education for self-care at home:

  • One (1) 75 minute new client session

  • One (1) 60 minute session focused on surgery related issues such as scar tissue, restrictions, and ROM limitations

  • One (1) 60 minute session focused on neuropathy work and self-care education

  • One (1) 60 minute session focused on lymphatic work and self-care education

  • One (1) 60 minute session focused on whole body integration

This is a $30 savings and clients who purchase this package will receive $5 off all future 60 minute sessions.


Massage therapy makes a wonderful gift. Consider purchasing a session or a custom amount for a loved one to help them through their journey.


I feel more like myself before cancer.

I hadn’t looked at my breasts in the mirror in two years. Now they are starting to feel like a part of me again and I feel more like myself before cancer.

— Anonymous.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

How is oncology massage different from ‘normal’ massage?

While I always tailor a massage to the specific needs of each client, Oncology Massage Therapy has an additional set of goals and needs to be mindful of. We aim to decrease certain symptoms, like pain, nausea, and fatigue, or to improve sleep. We may also be helping with anxiety or depression, which tends to also come with being in cancer treatment.

We also ask a bit about the client’s health picture, in order to make adjustments where they’re needed and most beneficial. For example, we need to adapt the massage to things like bone or vital organ involvement, and lymph node radiation or removal. We need to know the effects of current treatment on the skin or blood cell counts. And even when cancer treatment was years ago, some of those effects can linger, and we safely adapt to those for the maximum benefit of the client.

How do we know massage can help people with cancer?

We know it’s helpful, first, because our clients tell us it is. People tell me, for example, that massage helps with their stress, sleep problems, pain, anxiety, depression, body image and awareness, fatigue, and so on.

So while the body of research on oncology massage is small just now, it’s growing, and what’s out there does suggest that massage can help with pain, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. The research does seem to be reinforcing what our clients are telling us.

I heard massage could spread cancer. Is that true?

In a word: no. Skilled massage therapy will not spread cancer.

This is a decades-old myth, that massage would spread cancer by increasing blood circulation. It simply hasn’t held up to what science and medicine now know about how cancer spreads. If cancer spread – metastasis – were as simple as how fast tumor cells were carried through the bloodstream, then certainly exercise and movement would be discouraged for people with cancer, because they also speed up circulation.

Instead, oncologists encourage exercise and movement wherever possible. We no longer have that old fear of increasing circulation, because we now understand metastasis is a more complex process, involving interactions of cancer cells with their environment, genetics, as well as other factors.

Today, exercise and massage are recommended for people with cancer and cancer histories, and many hospitals and cancer centers offer massage therapy as part of the treatment program, and beyond. These Massage Therapists, like myself, are trained to offer safe, effective massage therapy to anyone with cancer or a history of cancer.

Do I need a doctor’s note to get a massage?

A growing number of physicians welcome massage therapy for their patients, but it is not realistic to expect them to be aware of all the variations. Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the massage therapist to practice ethically and within his/her training and experience. A doctor’s note or order is not a replacement for sound judgment on the part of a massage therapist.

Even with a doctor’s order, it is best for the client/patient to see a trained oncology massage therapist who will know the appropriate questions to ask in order to make safe adjustments to the massage, and who will often include the physician in the massage care plan conversation if needed.