Oncology Massage


Happiness is a not a destination, but the journey.
Dealing with cancer is both destination and journey.
Medicine focuses on the quality of the destination.
Oncology massage focuses on the quality of the journey.

(Source: Society for Oncology Massage)

Every body needs to be touched.

Oncology massage is an adaptation of massage to the unique situation and circumstances of a person with a cancer diagnosis or history. There is no “one size fits all” massage for oncology clients. Just as there are over two hundred different cancer diagnoses, the same cancer can present differently in different people. Or the same client may present in very different ways over a short period of time. A trained oncology massage therapist can work with each client to create a safe session unique to that person, time and place.

Each session will have its own particular intent. It may be to reduce stress and anxiety, to ease pain, or discomfort caused by nausea, headaches and constipation. Strokes are slow, gentle and soothing and can initiate the body’s relaxation response. Nurturing touch and therapeutic holds are used when even light strokes may be inappropriate.

There is a growing body of research which has investigated the benefits of oncology massage in alleviating some of the side effects of medical treatment for cancer and symptoms of the disease process itself. For example, one study (Cassileth and Vickers, 2004) reported that pain improved 47%, fatigue improved 42%, anxiety improved 59%, nausea improved 51%, depression improved 48%, and other symptoms, (such as shortness of breath, memory problems, dry mouth and disturbed sleep) improved 48%. In 2005, Hernandez-Reif and co-workers reported that patients receiving massage showed significant improvements in qualitative measures of well being and increased levels of dopamine, serotonin, natural killer cells and lymphocytes after five weeks of treatment.

Overseas, particularly in the USA, oncology massage is well established as part of the integrative care approach to treating cancer.

The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia is the peak national body representing health professionals whose work encompasses cancer control and care. In its May 2013 Position Statement, about the use of complementary and alternative medicine by cancer patients, COSA encourages patients to find massage practitioners, preferably with oncology experience, to deliver massage treatment.

In Australia, this specialised training is delivered by Oncology Massage Training, a nationally and internationally accredited not for profit organisation. Training is available for massage therapist other tactile therapists drawn to this area of work. Post graduate study, which trains therapists to work in health care settings, is hosted by the Olivia Newton John Cancer and Wellness Centre at the Austin Hospital in Melbourne.

Oncology massage is deeply nurturing and relaxing experience. It is safe. It offers support for the cancer journey.


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