What Is an Oncology Massage and Is It Safe?



My mother was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and we’ve been researching alternative and complementary treatments that will help ease her pain and increase her chances of recovery. As I was reading about complementary cancer treatments, massage therapy kept coming up. What is an oncology massage? Does it work, and is it safe for my mother?


Oncology massage is a supportive therapy that can help cancer patients manage their symptoms and side effects before, during, and after treatment. It also enhances comfort and helps ease the anxiety and depression associated with cancer diagnosis and treatment.[1] According to an article published by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, oncology massage helps improve the overall quality of life of cancer patients by relieving anxiety, pain, fatigue, and nausea.[2]

A review of studies on the use of massage therapy published in ISRN Nursing reported the effect of massage therapy for reducing pain was examined in 5 of 6 studies. Four of these studies reported a statistically significant reduction in pain as a result of regular massage therapy. This reduction in pain may last 16 to 18 hours after a massage therapy session.[3] Several studies reviewed also showed that massage therapy significantly reduced anxiety and depression in cancer patients.

Patients in these studies typically received partial- or full-body Swedish massage. The duration and frequency of massage therapy sessions varied widely depending on the health of the patient. Some patients were unable to find a comfortable position for treatment, while others were occasionally unable to participate due to medical devices or their general state of health.[4]

Oncology massage is highly individualized, with particular effort made to nurture and support the patient and ensure maximum comfort. If your mother wants to try oncology massage, make sure she chooses a massage therapist who is specifically trained in oncology massage. The massage therapist needs a good understanding of the disease and how it can affect the human body, as well as the side effects of common cancer treatments, so they can modify their massage techniques to accommodate the individual patient.[5]

The therapist will take a detailed assessment before beginning treatment so they can adapt and customize the treatment to your mother’s condition. They will ask questions about her cancer treatment history, short- and long-term medications, medical devices, and the site of any tumors. The massage therapist also may want to speak with your mother’s oncologist and other medical professionals involved in her cancer treatment. The answers to these questions are crucial to ensure a safe and beneficial experience.


[1] Hematology/Oncology Clinics of North America: “The Value of Massage Therapy in Cancer Care” http://cincinnati.vc.ons.org/file_depot/0-10000000/0-10000/6741/associatedFiles/$231+Value_of_Massage_Therapy_in_Cancer_Care_2008.pdf

[2] The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center: “The benefits of oncology massage” https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/cancerwise/2010/07/the-benefits-of-oncology-massage-1.html

[3] ISRN Nursing: “The Use of Massage Therapy for Reducing Pain, Anxiety, and Depression in Oncological Palliative Care Patients: A Narrative Review of the Literature” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3168862/

[4] Id.

[5] Society for Oncology Massage: “What Is Oncology Massage?” http://www.s4om.org/oncology-massage-overview

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