By Andrew Weil , Dr. Weil is clinical professor of medicine at the University of Arizona and director of its Program in Integrative Medicine.
Question: Is massage safe for people who have been treated for cancer?
And I know why you ask: Despite the lack of any credible evidence, many cancer patients still believe that massage may spread cancer cells around the body. This is simply untrue.
There's proof that massage is helpful in a variety of ways, and I often recommend it to my patients who have cancer. Several studies show that manipulation of the body's muscles and other soft tissues can reduce nausea, pain, fatigue, and anxiety in people with the disease. Many therapists rave about its profound impact upon their patients' sense of well-being. Other research has found that people with cancer who receive massage (along with acupuncture) after surgery experience fewer symptoms of depression than those who receive only the usual postoperative care.
Still, cancer patients should take some precautions. People who have just had chemotherapy or radiation often have low blood platelet counts and can bruise easily; they should receive only light massage.
If you've recently had surgery, you shouldn't get a massage if there are signs of infection at the surgical site. Radiation therapy patients shouldn't have their treatment sites massaged because it may further irritate their skin. Tell your doctor that you're getting a massage and consider finding a therapist experienced in massaging people with cancer.
Massage is so effective that many cancer centers now offer it to their patients as complementary therapy. For hospitalized patients, experts often recommend gentler forms of massage, such as acupressure and reflexology.
Reprinted from Prevention Magazine, March 2008 issue. www.Prevention.com