Massage Therapy for Patients with Cancer


By: Cindy Spence, MPH, LMT


Massage is rapidly gaining support in the oncology community for its documented benefits for cancer patients. The American Cancer Society and reputable hospitals across the country now advocate massage for people at all stages of treatment and beyond: diagnosis, active treatment, recovery, long-term survival, and at the end of life. Benefits include relaxation and improved sleep, pain relief, decreased anxiety and depression, decreased edema and lymphedema, decreased side effects from chemotherapy and radiation, and faster surgical recovery. In a study of 1,290 oncology patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering over a three-year period, improvements of up to 52% were observed. Gayle MacDonald, author of Medicine Hands, has said “If a drug were discovered that provided the many benefits massage gives to cancer patients, pharmaceutical companies would be falling all over themselves to bottle it.”

It is important that people with cancer or cancer histories seek therapists with special training in oncology massage. These specially trained therapists know how to make accommodations for low white blood cell counts, low platelets, lymphedema, bone fragility, medical devices and other realities of treatment. They work with patients and their medical providers to make massage a nurturing experience that enhances the healing process, even for those who are seriously ill.

Visit the Society for Oncology Massage to learn more and to locate a list of trained therapists in your area, at  Another excellent resource is the Oncology Massage Alliance, which provides free hand and foot massage in chemo infusion rooms

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