The primary focus of palliative care as a medical treatment is to make a patient comfortable while improving his or her quality of life in spite of symptoms suffered from disease. One form of palliative care that has drawn attention in the medical field is massage. Massage has been used to reduce physical symptoms of pain, anxiety, stress, enhance blood circulation and nervous system function, and improve a patient’s mental and emotional state.
Oncology physicians are realizing the positive results massage may have on their patients physically, emotionally, and mentally while suffering from cancer symptoms and the various effects from the aggressive cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
The patient focus to find alternative therapies led to the interest in palliative treatments such as massage and its ability to alleviate or reduce side effects of the traditional forms of cancer treatments. Massage therapy is most effective when used in combination with other traditional cancer treatments.
The Benefits of Massage Therapy as a Palliative Treatment for Cancer Patients
Massage, as an alternative treatment for cancer patients, has several benefits that include relaxation of muscles, improvement of blood circulation, reduction and management of pain, and a solution to feelings of isolation.
According to a rehabilitation physician from The University of Texas, Ki Y. Shin, M.D., one of the primary uses of massage as a palliative form of treatment in cancer patients is its ability to relieve pain and fatigue. Dr. Shin also states that the use of massage has been shown to reduce cancer treatment side effects, such as nausea, while improving patients’ energy levels, emotional state, and overall quality of life.
When cancer patients battle aggressive cancers, palliative treatments such as massage may give their body the ability to deal with challenging side effects by relaxing the body and mind, and in turn reduces treatment symptoms such as fever, nausea, fatigue and pain.
Another positive effect of massage as a palliative treatment has been linked to its ability to help cancer patients overcome feelings of being isolated. The human touch helps cancer patients feel as though they are not alone when confronted with a disease that often makes them feel isolated in their situation. This in turn has positive effects on patients’ mental and emotional state during their difficult challenge.
Although massage as a palliative treatment for cancer patients is not a cure, it may help increase the effectiveness of traditional cancer treatments, and help keep patients more comfortable during their ordeal.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage for Cancer Patients
According to The National Cancer Institute, the massage type manual lymphatic drainage is effective in treating lymphedema. This is a common side effect of traditional cancer treatment that retains protein and water in tissues of cancer patients. Manual lymphatic drainage relieves this symptom by applying light pressure and gentle motion that help eliminate lymph fluid, thus relieving swollen tissue. This type of massage as a palliative treatment should be carried out by a licensed and trained health practitioner due to potential injury from this delicate technique.
Massage Therapists That Administer Massage as a Palliative Treatment
A massage therapist should be trained in the field of oncology massage since it is important to make sure that cancer patients receive proper massage techniques that compliment traditional cancer treatments.
According to rehabilitation physician, Dr. Shin, it is important for oncology massage therapists to prescribe and perform proper techniques that address a cancer patient’s individual condition and needs. There may be cases where the massage therapist may need to know whether or not to reduce pressure or avoid certain areas such as those with incisions or tumors. This knowledge helps the therapist know what adjustments to make in the massage therapy treatment if necessary, while increasing its effectiveness in the overall patient treatment.
Dr. Shin warns that some cancer patients may face complications with massage therapy and should not use the alternative treatment. These patient groups include those with tumors, blood clots, patients on anticoagulant drugs or blood thinner drugs, those with low platelet counts or blood disorders, and those that suffer from an unstable spine or fracture.
Dr. Shin also states that cancer patients with other medical conditions should approach massage therapy with caution since they may require modifications in the alternative treatment. These conditions include infections, excess fluids, bone metastasis, and those with delicate skin as a result of chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Cancer patients should not receive massage therapy in areas of enlarged lymph nodes or tumors since this may increase risk of spreading cancer cells.
In addition, the patient’s therapist should consult with his or her oncologist before performing massage therapy to further boost its effectiveness.