A welcome relief for clients with or recovering from cancer, oncology massage is a gentle, therapeutic modality that can be a massage therapist’s specialty or part of a well-rounded practice. It’s techniques are based both in empathy and medical understanding, and the care a trained oncology massage therapist offers comes from both the hands and the heart.
What Is Oncology Massage?
Oncology massage therapy is a form of soothing, light touch massage for cancer patients. It adapts existing massage therapy techniques to be safely performed despite the complications of cancer and cancer treatment.
While a traditional massage may be aimed at spa-like relaxation or working out a sore muscle, the primary goal of oncology massage is comfort. It can provide much-needed pain and symptom relief, and the warmth and compassion of human touch can be an invaluable emotional support.
Oncology massage training prepares therapists to safely navigate both the physical and psychological impact of cancer. A trained oncology massage therapist can understand, assess and adapt to each client’s specific disease and side effects of treatment like chemotherapy. A successful therapist will adjust to various clinical conditions, like the presence of medical equipment and different treatment stages, with grace and efficacy.
How Can Massage Help Cancer Patients?
Oncology massage is a recognized and well-researched complementary therapy for cancer patients. It provides relief from both the physical and psychological impact of cancer, and it can make all aspects of living with cancer easier. It’s recommended by physicians, offered by many hospitals and sought by patients.
Oncology massage benefits include:
- Relaxation and a break from “clinical” treatments
- Improved sleep
- Reduction of chemotherapy-induced neuropathy
- Reduced nausea
- Relief from chronic pain
- Fewer headaches
- Reduced depression and anxiety
- Restoring a sense of dignity and ownership of one’s body
- Experiencing a safe, healing, humanizing touch from an individual that understands the effects of cancer treatment
Can Massage Spread Cancer?
The spread of cancer, called metastasis, is a complex process. While the circulation of blood and lymph is known to play a role, increased circulation isn’t considered a risk factor. In fact, oncology massage doesn’t stimulate blood or lymph flow more than healthy exercise will. Cancer patients are rarely restricted from exercising and are in fact encouraged to stay active.
There are potential contraindications that vary on a case-by-case basis. Delicate tissues, areas near tumors, or recently treated areas may need to be avoided. Some clients may bruise easily or be at increased risk for complications like deep vein thrombosis. Communication skills are critical for getting a complete picture of each client’s situation. Oncology massage training will prepare you to ask the right questions, and it can be necessary to communicate with a client’s doctor(s) to ensure your treatment protocol is safe.
Working in Oncology Massage
Oncology massage training isn’t a limited field. There are numerous ways a trained bodyworker can utilize what they’ve learned. For massage therapists looking to specialize, working in a hospital or medical center can be ideal. You can join an existing program or seek backing to begin your own. Oncology massage research is also ongoing, and opportunities to join existing research programs or push for your own program can present themselves.
For therapists that aren’t looking to specialize, oncology massage opens up possibilities to connect with the community, help private clients and expand opportunities in the workforce. Volunteering services at a local medical center, hospice or through a cancer charity can be a wonderful experience. Private practices will be better equipped to take in new clients seeking therapeutic touch or help existing clients. Many spas and health clinics are now seeking trained massage therapists that can provide oncology massage as well
Work environment isn’t the only consideration for therapists. Oncology massage is immensely rewarding but can be emotionally taxing. Mental self-care is critical, and therapists must be prepared to face difficulties like a client experience intense emotional release during a session and the loss of clients.
Oncology Massage Training
Compared to programs for a brand new modality like Thai massage or shiatsu, oncology massage training programs are brief but intensive. Therapists learn to take skills they already know and adapt them into safe massage techniques for cancer patients. You can expect to learn how to adapt to situations like clients who are bedridden or are at high risk of infection. The biology of cancer, massage contradictions, communication skills, and ethics are also emphasized.
Thorough introductory courses start around 8 credit hours, and full oncology massage training often requires 32 to 50 credit hours. Attending hands-on CEU clinics and exploring oncology-centered CEU programs beyond basic training is strongly encouraged for massage therapists looking to specialize. Courses in subjects like scar therapy, hospice care, and pediatric oncology massage are available.
Upcoming Oncology Massage Classes
Massage for People Living with Cancer – March 2, 2018 – Dallas, Texas – Gayle MacDonald Oncology Massage Therapy: Caring for Clients with Cancer – March 9, 2018 – Atlanta, Georgia – Cindy Gillan Oncology Massage Workshop – March 9, 2018 – Newport Beach, California – Johnnette du Rand Kelly Cancer Massage – March 12, 2018 – Parsippany, New Jersey – Cheryl Chapman Infusion Center Oncology Massage: Module 1 – March 13, 2018 – Newport Beach, California – Johnnette du Rand Kelly Infusion Center Oncology Massage: Module 2 – March 15, 2018 – Newport Beach, California – Johnnette du Rand Kelly Integrative Oncology Rehabilitation – March 23, 2018 – Chicago, Illinois – Monarch Continuing Education Massage for People Living with Cancer – April 6, 2018 – Silver Spring, Maryland – Mary Aguilera-Titus Integrative Oncology Rehabilitation – June 28, 2018 – Charlotte, North Carolina – Monarch Continuing Education
One of the most trusted forms of oncology massage certification is becoming a Society for Oncology Massage (S4OM) Preferred Practitioner. S4OM sets strict standards of practice, offers their own foundational courses, and maintains a list of recognized education providers for membership.
Whether you feel that it’s your calling or you’re looking to provide support for a recently diagnosed client, oncology massage training is essential to learning to serve your clients with cancer. It’s an excellent specialty for compassionate therapists looking to help clients during some of the most difficult times of their lives.