Studies have shown that massage therapy can offer both physical and emotional benefits for women with breast cancer. Regular massage therapy can be an enjoyable part of your treatment plan.

In 2003, a 5-week study at the University of Miami compared the effects of massage therapy and progressive muscle relaxation on a group of 58 women with with Stage I or Stage II breast cancer. While both groups reported feeling less anxious afterwards, the massage therapy group also reported decreased feelings of depression. The massage group also showed an increase in dopamine and immunity-boosting white blood cells.

A study conducted at the University of Minnesota in 2003 found that participants who experienced healing touch massage reported to have less anxiety and pain compared to those who only experienced the caring presence of a doctor or nurse (with no massage therapy). Participants who received the massage also needed less pain medication. The study consisted of a group of 230 women with cancer.

Performed by a skilled professional, massage therapy can provide breast cancer patients with immediate results such as reduced stress, anxiety, and pain, as well as long-term results such as reduced depression and hostility, increased levels of dopamine, serotonin, NK cell number, and lymphocytes.

Before booking a massage appointment, it is important to first consult with your oncologist or surgeon to see if massage is right for you. It is also crucial to let your massage therapist know about your diagnosis, treatment, and any additional symptoms you may have. Here are a few words of advice (be sure to seek further information about each point):

  • If you’ve just had surgery on your breasts, you should lie on your back for massage until your doctor gives you the O.K. to lie on your stomach.
  • Deep massage, or any massage that involves strong pressure, should be avoided if you are undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.
  • If you are undergoing radiation, your massage therapist should avoid any sensitive skin in the treatment area.
  • If you have had lymph nodes removed, your massage therapist should only use a light-touch massage on your affected arm and the area around your underarm.
  • If you have arm lymphedema, the massage therapist should avoid the affected arm/underarm areas completely. There is a specific kind of massage for this (manual lymphatic drainage), and should be performed only by a therapist trained and certified in this area of massage.

Regular massage therapy can help both short- and long-term physical and mental well-being for breast cancer patients, but do your research beforehand. Consult with your health care professional before receiving massage therapy.