“Massage is the oldest form of medicine known to humans” ~ Unknown.
Massage can help us in so many ways when it comes to the process of cancer treatment and recovery. There are numerous psychological and emotional benefits to being touched and cared for physically, when you’re going through such a grueling and isolating condition.
On top of this, there are also a whole bunch of physiological benefits that come from touch and massage within the context of cancer treatment.
The treatment of cancer varies between types and locations of tumor growth, but the majority of people who choose to go through chemotherapy and radiation therapy experience great discomforts that include (but are certainly not limited to) insomnia, pain, fatigue and decreased immunity.
Massage can help with all of these things and the researchers are out there trying to figure out the mechanisms behind why touch helps us so much.
Numerous studies have reported that massage significantly decreases pain related to cancer treatment.(1) Some larger studies even report a decrease in pain by up to 40%(2), which is quite a considerable decrease in uncomfortable sensation!
With radiation and chemotherapy the capacity of our immune system becomes depleted and certain inflammatory compounds (one of the major ones is called Interleukin-6 or IL-6) increase, placing increased systemic strain on the body.
It has been demonstrated that IL-6 levels decrease with massage, which is a pretty noteworthy effect, as the literature also shows us that there is an inverse link, that we don’t know much about yet, between IL-6 levels and survival rates.
Fatigue is also decreased with touch and massage! The hypothesis is that this occurs as a result of a number of biochemical interactions that include greater stimulation of the Vagus nerve, which triggers the increased release of a compound called acetylcholine or “ACh”, leading to a decrease in pro-inflammatory compounds.
There are certainly factors that must be considered when it comes to the application of massage to cancer patients, with education being a key component of this, but the fact that it can have such a significant supportive role in the treatment setting represents its value to cancer patients. We need more compassionate touch within the total care of people trying to overcome this horrible condition.
1. The Clinical and Biochemical Effects of Massage Therapy During Radiation Treatment for Breast Cancer, Judy G Myers, PhD
2. Meta-Analysis of Massage Therapy on Cancer Pain. Sook-Hyun Lee, MS et al. Integrative Cancer Therapies 1–8, 2015