Medicine Hands: Massage Therapy for People with Cancer

Polly Triplat, CMT
Polly Triplat, CMT

At one time it was thought that the pressure from massage could cause cancer cells to spread. Thankfully advances in our understanding of cancer and cancer treatments have changed the way we support patients today. It is now widely taught that massage is helpful to any patient with cancer at any stage of their condition. Skilled touch often provides comfort, connection and nurturing to patients and their caregivers.

Anecdotal evidence of how massage has affected those with cancer is dramatic and inspiring. Scientific research at the Touch Research Institute has shown that pain and anxiety consistently improve immediately following a skilled touch session. In studies that measured overall patient satisfaction, patients who received touch therapy perceived their level of care increased and helped them feel calmer with less anxiety, tension, pain or depression.

Oncology Massage is a client-specific, customized massage designed to meet the unique and changing needs of someone in treatment for cancer or with a history of cancer treatment. Patients at Gene Upshaw Memorial Tahoe Forest Cancer Center may receive massage once a week while they are in active treatment if the schedule allows. Once a patient has completed treatment they can receive a limited number of massages through the support program. They then have the option to continue to receive sessions with the therapists privately at a reduced rate. We also recognize the importance of taking care of our caregivers. They are able to receive some massage during this stressful time through our support service program.

A safe massage plan generally revolves around the side effects of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Because each person and each session is unique, trained therapists are able to use a variety of modalities that are non-invasive and gentle. People that are in treatment require bodywork that is less demanding such as Reiki, acupressure, and craniosacral work. The most common adjustment for Oncology Massage is soothing, nurturing pressure rather than deep or vigorous strokes.

Many cancer patients have never received massage and are unsure of what to expect. Our Cancer Center has a private room specifically used for massage therapy. Patients are greeted upon arrival at the front desk and will have an opportunity to address any questions or concerns regarding their massage directly with the therapist. Sessions last one hour and are specifically designed around the needs of the patient. Some may want a general full body relaxation massage while others may have needs specific to a healing surgery site. Patients may also book a reflexology (foot massage) session in their chair during chemotherapy treatments.

When used as an adjunct therapy during radiation and chemotherapy, many patients experience their stress and anxiety greatly decreases before and during treatment.  Many patients report their post-treatment fatigue, low appetite and peripheral neuropathy have been greatly improved. Following surgery, massage may reduce post-surgical pain, improve mobility and appearance of surgical scars and help patients adapt more easily to implants and expanders.

On an emotional level, patients often experience an increased feeling of hope and improved self-image. Decreased anxiety and depression can be a benefit for both patients and caregivers. A general sense of well-being and empowerment in the healing process is common and can be important in this time of renewal.   

Polly Triplat, CMT has offered her therapeutic skills in the Tahoe/Truckee community for 25 years. Bodywise Massage is her private practice where she combines Healing Therapeutic Massage and Visionary Craniosacral work. Polly is co-creator and teacher for Sierra Conscious Dance, creating classes for embodiment through movement and dance.

Read more about Polly Triplat, C.M.T