Massage has many benefits for breast cancer patients including a boost to the immunity system, as well as lessening anxiety and depression. A University of Minnesota study in 2003 found that massage showed a decreased need for pain medication while a University of Florida study in 2003 showed an increased count in white blood cells that boost the immune system. When treating breast cancer patients there are many changes you will have to make to your regular treatment programs to provide the most benefit as well as to avoid aggravating common issues suffered by breast cancer patients.
Position and Technique
It is usually recommended that breast cancer patients lie on their backs during massage. Following initial treatment you can speak with your patient and suggest they ask their oncologist if it is advisable to lie on their stomachs as their treatments progress. It is most common to avoid deep tissue massage for patients still undergoing chemo or radiation treatments. These patients often have a decrease in red and white blood count which can increase the chances of bruising. Light massage as well as healing touch is recommended without the use of massage oils. Oils can cause irritation to skin made sensitive by these treatments. It is also required that you avoid contact with skin in the radiation treatment field especially areas with temporary corner markings. Although some patients may not have skin irritation from radiation treatment, caution and a very light touch is recommended.
Lymph Nodes and Lymphedema
It is common for breast cancer patients to undergo lymph node removal. In these cases it is necessary to use a light touch on the arm and area where lymph nodes have been removed. Lymphedema is also a common side effect of breast cancer and the arm in question should not be touched. Lymphedema patients do receive special massage treatments using a lymph draining technique known as manual lymphatic drainage. This is a specific modality developed by Dr. Vodder and should only be performed by RMT’s who have undergone the training and certification program. It is an excellent choice to consider for your enhanced training.
A recent study by RMT student Jennifer Bloch showed that the release of trigger points in the shoulder of cancer patients releases interleukin which regenerates lymph tissues. Endema is reduced by concentrating on trigger points in the shoulders and the release of interleukin. Jennifer, a student of CCMH was recently presented with the Canadian Council of Massage Therapy Schools Research and Interpretive Studies award for her paper.