Massage therapy and cancer
Massage is often offered as part of cancer care in cancer centres, hospices, community health services and some GP surgeries.
Massage is a form of structured or therapeutic touch. It can be used to:
relax your mind and body
improve the flow of fluid (lymph) in the lymphatic system
enhance your mood.
Some studies of people with cancer suggested that massage therapy reduced symptoms such as pain, nausea, anxiety, depression and fatigue.
There are different types of massage therapy. Some are soft and gentle, while others are more active and may be uncomfortable. Your therapist will be able to adjust the pressure for your comfort. Cancer doctors and complementary therapists will usually advise you 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. Research has not found any evidence of this, but massage therapists will avoid any areas affected by cancer, such as tumour sites or lymph nodes. Talk to your cancer doctor or nurse if you’re worried.
Massage therapists working with people with cancer must be properly trained and qualified. They should have some knowledge of cancer and its treatments. They can sometimes teach relatives or friends how to do basic massages, so that they can support you at home.
During your therapy it’s important to avoid massage:
directly over a tumour or lymph nodes (glands) affected by cancer (lymph nodes are part of the immune system and help to filter germs and disease)
to areas that are bruised or sensitive
to areas being treated with radiotherapy during and for a few weeks after it finishes
around intravenous catheters (such as central lines) and pain relief patches
to areas affected by blood clots, poor circulation or varicose veins.
It’s also important to be particularly gentle if:
cancer has spread to your bones
you have a low platelet count (platelets are cells that help the blood to clot).
If you tend to bleed or bruise easily or have cancer in your bones, speak to your doctor before having massage therapy.
You can contact the GMCT to find a trained massage therapist.
How have we created this information?
Read our statement about how we have written and reviewed our information about complementary therapies.