There has been some controversy in recent years regarding whether or not it’s safe for cancer patients to get massages. Some say massages will encourage the cancerous tumors to break apart, sending deadly cells all over the the body, where they can then settle and multiply, becoming much more difficult to treat. Others say massages are a great way to get things working and moving the way they’re supposed to in your body so that you can fight cancer better. So which is it?
Well, now the American Society for Clinical Oncology has endorsed a particular set of evidence-based guidelines for massage, acupuncture, and other alternative therapies for cancer patients. So yes, massage is safe. And it can be very beneficial for cancer patients when the correct types of therapy are given to combat the specific types of symptoms the patient has.
This is the first endorsement ASCO has made in the field of integrative oncology, but experts in the field believe it won’t be the last.
“We see this as a significant step forward for the field of integrative oncology to increase our exposure to [the] mainstream oncology world,” says Lynda Balneaves, PhD, RN, the president of the Society of Integrative Oncology, “and we really hope that this is a way of moving beyond an ‘us versus them’ mentality so we are simply talking about evidence.”
- Massage, acupuncture and relaxation can be selectively offered for reducing anxiety.
- Acupressure can be offered in addition to antiemetic drugs to control nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy.
- Massage is recommended for improving mood disturbance, offering moderate to substantial benefits.
- Acupuncture, healing touch and stress management can be selectively offered for improving mood disturbance and depressive symptoms.
- Low-level laser therapy, manual lymphatic drainage and compression bandaging can be selectively offered for improving lymphedema.
- Acupuncture, healing touch, hypnosis and music therapy can be selectively offered for pain management.
- Acupuncture, qigong, reflexology and stress management can be selectively offered for improving quality of life.
For those who work in or are familiar with the field of massage or integrative therapy, these recommendations probabaly don’t come as much of a shock. They really don’t say anything that experts haven’t been suggesting for years. But having a trusted entity like the ASCO on their side will allow people to put more trust in massage therapies and prompt more cancer patients to try these therapies.
“We are excited that a larger group of clinicians working in oncology would be aware of the SIO guidelines and be aware of evidence-based complementary therapies that could be helpful to patients,” says Balneaves.
But will this endorsement really change standard cancer care? Probably not right away.
“I think it’s a step, but I think it’s a tiny step,” says Kerry Jordan, oncology massage instructor and operations manager for Healwell. “I am pleased that it’s getting the coverage that it has, but we are still fighting an uphill battle to get massage meaningfully integrated in a hospital setting.”
The next step, Jordan hopes, is to get clinicians to become more familiar with alternative therapies like massage and the research that backs them so they can begin prescribing them to the patients who would most benefit.
Massages can be good for your brain, body, and spirit, so share this information with someone who needs a massage!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?