Page Updated: May 11, 2019

Mesothelioma and the Benefits of Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is a form of complementary and alternative medicine. For patients living with mesothelioma, traditional medicine focuses mostly on killing cancer cells and reducing tumor size, while complementary practices, like massage, can address other issues that may not treat the cancer, but improve quality of life.

These issues include things like pain, stress, anxiety, depression, fear, fatigue, and other symptoms and side effects of living with mesothelioma and its treatments. Massage therapy is proven to have health benefits in general, but also specifically for cancer patients. With a trained massage therapist, experienced in working with cancer patients, this alternative treatment can provide a lot of relief.

massage hands

What is Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy is different from just a casual massage. It’s considered a part of medicine, often under the heading of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Practitioners are trained and licensed therapists, many of whom work with chiropractors or with physicians to provide an additional level of treatment to patients. While some people may get massages simply because it feels nice, others use massage therapy to treat real conditions and symptoms. 

Massage therapy involves rubbing and manipulating muscles, skin, tendons, and ligaments to produce specific results. These may include reducing the pain caused by a sports injury or reducing stress to lower blood pressure, for example. There are also specialties in massage therapy, such as medical, sports, or spinal health massage.

Regardless of the specialization, all massage therapists tailor their treatment to each individual patient’s needs and health goals.

Health Benefits of Massage Therapy

The benefits of massage therapy in are varied and numerous. Studies have shown that these benefits are real, but those who have experienced them don’t need researchers to back up what they already know. In general, massage therapy is known to be able to reduce negative feelings like anxiety and stress, to reduce pain (including headaches and back pain), to improve digestion and digestive disorders, to improve healing and help injuries heal faster.

Evidence from some studies shows that this last benefit may be because massage stimulates the immune system and helps it work better and more efficiently. 

Oncology Massage Therapists

The general health benefits of massage have been proven in studies, but these benefits can also extend to specific health conditions, including cancer. There are some massage therapists who specialize in treating cancer patients, including those with mesothelioma. These are practitioners of oncology massage and they have learned about cancer, what it does to the body, how treatments work, and the side effects of treatment. They work with patients to develop individualized treatment plans that help them feel better and to meet specific targets, such as reducing pain to improve mobility.

There are some risks and limitations to practicing massage therapy with cancer patients. A patient with mesothelioma may be more fragile or more at risk for pain than a healthy patient, or may have tender spots from treatment or from tumors that need to be treated gently or avoided. It is important that oncology massage therapists work with a patient’s medical team and learn all about the specific needs and limitations for the therapy.

Oncology Massage Benefits Mesothelioma Patients in Several Ways

The general health benefits of massage therapy are well documented, but there are also specific reasons that mesothelioma patients might try to reap the benefits of massage. Underlying all of these benefits is the fact that together they give cancer patients a better quality of life for the time they have remaining.

  • Massage reduces stress and anxiety. There is no question that patients living with a diagnosis of mesothelioma are suffering physically as well as emotionally. To have terminal cancer, to be sick, and to suffer symptoms and side effects of treatment is emotionally draining. Studies have found that massage therapy reduces negative emotions, especially stress and anxiety. Mesothelioma patients can benefit from regular massage for this reason, but also before procedures that are frightening.
  • Massage therapy mitigates treatment side effects. The effects of cancer are physical as well as emotional, but there are also the symptoms caused by treatments. Chemotherapy, in particular causes fatigue and nausea. Massage therapy has been shown to increase energy and reduce fatigue. It may also help patients regain mobility more quickly after having a surgical procedure.
  • Massage improves recovery. Massage therapy cannot directly treat cancer, but studies have shown that it has an effect on immune system action. Mesothelioma patients face slow recovery times after receiving chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical procedures, but massage therapy can help the body heal faster and speeds that recovery time. Massage even helps patients recover more quickly from being under general anesthesia.
  • Massage provides a better quality of life. Living with mesothelioma means living in discomfort, in pain, in some cases with limited mobility, and in most cases with added stress and anxiety. When massage therapy is able to reduce some of these side effects of having cancer, it gives patients a better quality of life. It allows a patient to do more, thanks to reduced fatigue and less pain; it helps patients sleep better because of stress reduction; it also helps people cope better with the struggles of having cancer because it boosts mood and reduces anxiety.

Choosing an Oncology Massage Therapist

In addition to the benefits that massage therapy can provide for a mesothelioma patient, there are limitations and a few risks. Massage may cause more pain if not done correctly; it could cause bleeding, bruising, and infections. Massage may worsen wounds, or in extreme cases cause bone fractures.

These risks can be minimized by selecting a trained, licensed massage therapists experienced in working with cancer patients. A trained professional will know how to avoid certain places on a patient’s body, where and when to use gentler movements, and how to work with the medical team to determine a patient’s needs and limitations. 

While there are clear benefits to using oncology massage for patients with cancer, there are also some limitations. Patients with cancer are at a greater risk of experiencing adverse events from massage. These could include bleeding by bruising or even internal hemorrhaging or bleeding through wounds, infections, increased pain, and bone fractures.

Work with your doctor or other members of your medical team to find a good oncologist. Your doctors are likely to know of trained massage therapists and may even work with one or two, and recommend them to patients. Even if you choose a therapist unrelated to your medical team, talk to your doctor about it and keep all members of the medical team in the loop so that you get the best all-around care.

There are so many important benefits of massage therapy for mesothelioma patients. To complement traditional treatments, use massage therapy to help mitigate pain and other treatment side effects, to have more energy and mobility, and to be better equipped to cope emotionally with living with and battling cancer.

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