Massage therapy and cancer
Massage is one of the oldest therapies there is. It’s now often offered as part of cancer care in hospital wards, hospices, community health services and in some GP surgeries.
Massage is a form of structured or therapeutic touch. It can be used to relax the mind and body, promote sleep, relieve tension, improve the flow of blood and lymph (fluid in the lymphatic system), reduce blood pressure and enhance mood. One large observational study of people with cancer suggested that massage therapy reduced symptoms such as pain, nausea, anxiety, depression and fatigue.
There are many different types of massage therapy. Some types are soft and gentle; other types are more vigorous and possibly uncomfortable. People with cancer who want to try massage are generally advised to try gentle massage and avoid vigorous deep tissue massage.
Some people worry that massage could cause cancer cells to spread to other parts of their body, but research has not found any evidence of this.
Massage therapists working with people with cancer should be properly trained and qualified, with knowledge of cancer and its treatments. Relatives or friends are sometimes taught how to do basic massage, so that they can support the person with cancer.
During massage it’s important not to apply deep or intense pressure:
near any area affected by cancer
to areas of tenderness
to areas being treated with radiotherapy (during and for a few weeks after the treatment)
around intravenous catheters (such as central lines)
to areas affected by blood clots.
It’s also important to be particularly gentle if the cancer has spread to the bones.
If you have a tendency to bleed or bruise easily, check with your doctor before having massage therapy.
You can get more information about massage therapy and finding a trained massage therapist from the General Council for Massage Therapy.
How have we created this information?
Read our statement about how we have written and reviewed our information about complementary therapies.