Oncology massage

Effective relaxation and pain relief, when done right

This September, the world gathered for a United Nations General Assembly on Noncommunicable Diseases, in recognition that these are the causes of the most deaths worldwide. Cancer itself is responsible for 7.6 million deaths annually (2008 numbers). Not to mention the vast numbers of fighters, and survivors. Cancer touches all of us.

It only makes sense, then, to provide spa services for cancer fighters, and people recovering from the often severe treatments. If anyone deserves a chance to relax, to focus on feeling well, and on feeling better, these courageous people do. But spas must be smart about it. There are specific requirements and guidelines to follow, to ensure a treatment meant to sooth and relieve doesn’t end up creating greater pain and problems. Luckily today, more and more training opportunities exist to enable spas to provide effective and safe treatments.

Demand for oncology massage is on the rise, as the effectiveness of massage for relaxation and pain relief is recognized. Massage can be a safe, natural way to help a person cope with the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. It can help decrease muscle tightness, stiffness, swelling, nausea and pain. And the positive effects of massage go beyond the physical, also positively impacting the mental health of the recipient. However, it is utterly important that the massage therapist is trained in oncology massage, and they know how to gauge the correct approach, for the patient, as it can vary greatly patient to patient.

There are a number of training opportunities available for massage therapists interested in learning oncology massage.

One resource is the Society for Oncology Massage (S4OM), created in 2007. Today, the society promotes research and proper training for oncology massage. The S4OM Recognized Instructors are mainly across the US, and are recognized based on qualifications, classroom hours, coverage of specific topics, and supervised hands-on practice.

Another option is Touch for Cancer, which offers the Morag Currin Method of Oncology Esthetics training. Most demand has been in the U.S. market, however, over the last six months, more requests have come from Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba. “It’s about learning how to modify a treatment for the individual needs,” says Morag Currin, author of Oncology Esthetics: A Practitioner’s Guide. “For example, you might have to make adjustments to a facial massage, because applying the wrong pressure can aggravate the lymphatic system. Or, if the platelet count is low, there’s a risk of bruising from moderate pressure.”

The three-day clinical oncology aesthetics course follows a set curriculum. The first day is delivered by a medical professional, and covers cancer—what is it, statistics, various ways it manifests, the treatments and their side and long-term effects. Aestheticians require an understanding of the disease and the various impacts, and to learn new methods to avoid adding to discomfort. On the second day, participants learn about skin cancer—what to look for, how to detect it and how to treat people who have it or had it; immunology; and adjustments that can be made to the spa environment—the beds, ambiance, smells, sanitation; and adjustments to the treatments which they practice on each other. The final day covers marketing and products, then cancer survivors and fighters join the room.

“One in six men, and one in eight women, will get cancer in their lifetime,” Currin says. “It’s a very real thing. But when I was at aesthetics school years ago, we were taught not to touch people with cancer, which is just terrible. Like the rest of us, or perhaps more so, they just want to relax in the spa and feel better.”

by Heather Ednie | Fall 2011