A Brief 101 About Working with Cancer in Massage Therapy Practice and Bodywork

A Brief 101 About Working with Cancer in Massage Therapy Practice and Bodywork

Cancer is a group of diseases that cause cells in the body to change and grow out of control. Most types of cancer cells form a lump or mass called a tumor, although not all tumors are cancer. A tumor that is cancerous is called “malignant”.  A tumor that is not cancerous is called “benign”.

Not all cancers form tumors.  Some cancers circulate through the body such as leukemia (a cancer of the blood) and lymphoma (a cancer of the lymphatic system including white blood cells).  

The US National Cancer Institute[i] provides specific directives for massage therapists working with cancer.  Their instructions include to avoid working on:

  • Open wounds, bruises, or areas with skin breakdown
  • Anything connected to or directly over the tumor site
  • Areas with a blood clot in a vein
  • Sensitive areas following radiation therapy

Working with Cancer: Precautions

It is recommended to avoid applying unnecessary pressure anywhere on the body of a leukemia or lymphoma client, because pressing anywhere on the body will be pressing directly on the cancer – which is the opposite of what the National Cancer Institute advisesIt is also recommended to avoid applying pressure anywhere there is a cancerous tumor or lesion.

Noncompressive bodywork or energy work may be okay for some circulatory cancers; however, it is always best to seek approval and/or direction for services from a medical physician regarding medical conditions.

[i] “Massage Therapy for Health Purposes.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 20 Nov. 2015, nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/massage-science.


What is Cancer Metastases?

When cancer spreads, it is still named after the part of the body where it started. 

For example, if colon cancer spreads to the liver, it is still called colon cancer, not liver cancer.



As such, when a client exhibits a new pain or illness, this could be from the metastases or spreading of cancer, but only a doctor would be able to determine this.  An oncology client could experience any number of issues and further training in oncology should be sought to learn these and more to work on oncology clients and survivors.


What is Chemo Brain?

Is a condition of mental cloudiness that can occur with a person who has cancer.

Despite its many names, people with cancer do not require chemotherapy to experience these effects.  Oncology researchers are finding other factors that link mental cloudiness with cancer.[i]

People with “chemo brain” may also have problems with motor coordination, so offer extra assistance for sitting, standing, lying down, getting up or any other muscle coordination events required of the client.


Recommendations for Scheduling Appointments for Oncology Clients

  1. Book appointments later in the day so that the client has a chance to check their calendar or “remember” they have an appointment!
  2. Provide 2 reminder calls for the appointment. Call the day before and 2 hours before their appointment to remind them!

To learn more, please register for training at https://ceinstitute.com/

#massage #massagetherapy #massageprecautions #massagecontraindications

[i] “Glossary: Definitions & Phonetic Pronunciations.” American Cancer Society, 23 May 2018, www.cancer.org/cancer/glossary.html.



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