What is Oncology Massage?
Oncology Massage is a specialized form of Therapeutic Massage, designed to meet the specific needs of people who are dealing with cancer, the treatment respects the limits of the body post surgery, during treatment and through survivorship.
Why is Oncology Massage Different than a Regular Massage?
Oncology massage is a specialized form of massage therapy because people dealing with cancer but specifically breast cancer may:
- Be at risk for developing lymphedema as a result of breast cancer interventions including axillary lymph node removal or radiation.
- Generally have compromised immune systems.
- Tightness, general or isolated Pain,
- Chest Wall Edema,
- Sensation of skin being adhered to the chest wall,
- Decrease in Range of Motion,
- Scar contractures that can range from mild to severe,
- Axillary webbing syndrome or 'chording'.
Think of oncology massage as a part of your cancer treatments; the part you can actually look forward too. The massage treatment should focus on assisting your body in redirecting the lymph flow away from the scar tissue area and should help you to gain much needed relaxation and leave you with an improved sense of well being. The physical and emotional benefits of massage can be greatly beneficial in alleviating some of the stress associated with the journey of cancer treatment.
Breast health is too often ignored until after a problem arises. It’s an area of the body with powerful associations that sometimes makes women hesitant to seek care, despite the fact that the vast majority of them experience breast discomfort at some point. Whether it’s breast congestion, abnormalities such as lumps or cysts, diagnostic tests, or surgical procedures, any breast problem can create heightened anxiety and stress that can diminish overall health.
Although scientific studies are limited so far, anecdotal evidence suggests that these problems can be improved and possibly prevented with regular breast massage. Whether you massage yourself or seek out a certified therapist, breast massage can result in:
- Increased circulation of blood and lymph
- Reduced congestion in breast tissue
- Relief from mastalgia (breast pain)
- Improved posture
- Restored range of motion in the upper body
These physical improvements may provide huge psychological and emotional benefits, especially for those recovering from breast disease and the aftermath of invasive treatments.
Mastectomy scars shouldn't be treated in the same manner as scar tissue elsewhere in the body.
The main concern is the risk factor for lymphedema as most mastectomies are accompanied by lymph node surgery. In order to safely work on a scar in an area of lymphatic impairment, the scar is treated specifically with lymphatic drainage, redirecting lymph flow into an unaffected drainage site and addressing the scar in a specialized mindful and effective manner. Auxiliary webbing can be assisted with gentle myofascial release techniques. Most women find this treatment very beneficial in assisting with the healing process following breast surgery. Ideally you should receive oncology massage therapy every 3 weeks. During chemotherapy, massage is safest at the end of each round of treatments with the intention of working with you when your blood cell counts are highest.
If anyone needs and deserves soft, caring touch with massage, it is women living with breast cancer, whether before, during or post-treatment.
When to Massage - Ideally a few days pre-surgery and another the day before surgery.
The benefits from this would activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is our relaxation response. This decreases adrenaline, lowers blood pressure, slows respiration, relaxes the diaphragm and reduces cortisol. Massage allows the release of emotions and feelings such as fear, anger, guilt, loneliness and helplessness. The internal benefits decrease muscle contractions, lower blood sugar, and increase digestive enzymes and peristalsis. Presurgical massage prepares the body for an operation by gently releasing trigger points, softening muscles and connective tissue, and alleviating body trauma and tension.
Touch is a respite from physical pain and discomfort, and assist both emotionally and spiritually.
Postoperatively, massage alleviates surgical pain and edema. Massage assists in dissipating the residual effects of anesthesia, softens and reduces scar tissue, boosts the immune system and provides a safe, nurturing feeling. Massage allows a woman to let go of fear, anger and loneliness and deal with her altered self-image. During the painful process of reconstruction, touch provides a message of connection and support. Massage reconnects a woman and brings her back into her body by feeling the hands on her skin. And, last but not least, it simply feels good.
Losing a breast takes a great deal of physical, emotional strength and courage.
Even when an implant is placed, it is not the same as a natural breast. The type and stage of cancer will determine what surgery is done. Reconstruction is a painful and sometimes lengthy process. Issues with self-image arise.
Many women have no support of any kind. As much as we are not psychologists, massage therapists can be there for these clients in such important way. Touch is very powerful. As the saying goes, correct touch reaches body, mind and spirit.
During chemotherapy and radiation, light massage is vital in all phases and in addressing side effects and complications. Radiation is most always done post-surgery and unfortunately solidifies and hardens the fascia and burns the skin. Side effects do not last, but complications may make life difficult for a long time. The best time to provide a massage session is a day or two before the next chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Standard Swedish massage is contraindicated at this time, as it will place her body into hepatic overload. Instead, light massage and techniques such as CranioSacral Therapy or energy work are best. Energy modalities work very well in all phases of cancer. Combining both energy work and gentle massage is ideal. The length of the session can be from a few minutes to no more than an hour, and will be determined by the medical treatments the client is receiving.
Before any touch or massage is done there are vital questions that need to be answered?
Have one or more lymph nodes been removed? If so, how many, where and when? All that is needed is one node removed from the axilla to cause lymphedema. The second important question is if a medication port is present.
A medication port should always be located on the opposite side of the node removal. If this is not the case, there is also a high risk for lymphedema. When a medication port is present, no massage may be applied over or above the area. What can be done is a feather-light hand walking or small, light, slow strokes up from fingers to shoulder with no pressure. But before any treatment can commence a physician’s note is suggested while the client is in active treatment. This ensures the physician is aware that massage is part of her patient’s treatment protocol, and may provide the massage therapist with much needed information
Manual Lymphatic Drainage massage was developed in the 1930's by Dr. Emil Vodder.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is a gentle and effective way to address post mastectomy concerns when lymph nodes have been removed or radiated.MLD is a crucial component in the reduction and maintenance of lymphedema, manually re-routing lymph to new drainage areas that have not been damaged. MLD effectively de-congests the tissue by removing excess fluid, metabolic wastes, foreign substances, and large protein molecules all of which contribute to poor tissue health, lead to more swelling (protein attracts water) and are risk factors for serious infection. It encourages the natural circulation of lymph through the lymphatic system MLD is used daily during the intensive phase of lymphedema therapy as a reduction tool followed by the application of compression bandaging.
This combination is known as Combined Decongestive Therapy.
In addition to its practicality for managing lymphedema, MLD is a useful tool in easing the discomfort of over 60 conditions. As MLD removes metabolic waste, excess fluids and toxins from the body, the treatment can support the immune system and speed up the recovery from surgery or trauma. It will also help break down tough scar tissue that may have formed.
MLD is best suited to:
- Mastectomy patients (‘chording” after mastectomy/ node removal) *myofascial release with MLD*,
- People experiencing chemotherapy side effects (ie constipation, stress ,skin conditions, pain),
- People with achy/ swollen legs, varicose veins (due to venous insufficiency).
- People who have had lymph nodes removed or radiation,
- People with lymphedema,
The benefits of a Compassionate Beauty MLD Massage are far reaching for the treatment of lymphedema. Some of these benefits include:
- encourages post-surgical healing,
- loosens mastectomy scar tissue,
- educates patients at risk of lymphedema,
- decreases leg swelling in venous edema.
- increases lymphatic flow,
- by encouraging new drainage pathways following lymph node removal,
- gentle, rhythmic, deeply relaxing,
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema can be a hereditary condition, known as primary lymphedema; or it can also be as the result of some sort of trauma like an accident, a burn, or a surgery involving lymph nodes. Lymphedema is a condition characterized by localized swelling resulting from the accumulation of protein rich interstitial fluid, it happens when the lymphatic system has been damaged in some way. You may be at risk of lymphedema following a mastectomy or hysterectomy especially if any lymphnodes have been removed or damaged. This is known as secondary lymphedema. Lymphedema is never curred but it can be maintained by manual lymphatic drainage massage, compressions therapy (wearing of garments, stocking or bandages) correct exercise and skin care.
Here are some tips to assist you in managing you lymphedema:
- It is very important to avoid all types of infections
- Watch for signs of infection and call your doctor if you notice redness or increased warmth, especially if accompanied by a fever.
- Keep the limb clean and moisturized
- Avoid Cuts and Burns, if you do break the skin, clean the cut and use an antibacterial cream.
- Avoid sunburn- avoid direct sunlight and wear sunscreen on your arm and chest
- Wear insect repellent to avoid bug’s biting you.
- Don't cut cuticles or allow them to be cut when having a manicure
- Don't allow blood samples or injections on the affected limb
- Wear gardening gloves and Dish gloves to avoid any kind of injury
- Avoid heavy repetitive lifting on the affected side of the body or with affected limb.
- Avoid narrow bra straps or tight fitting bras if arms are affected
- Avoid Saunas and Hot tubs
- Exercise regularly but break in slowly and increase gradually. Exercise is very important in assisting the lymphatic system
- Maintain a healthy body weight, being overweight increases your chance of developing lymphedema
- Wear a compression sleeve when taking long flights