I am living with a cancer diagnosis…what questions should I ask my massage therapist?

Massage can support your cancer journey in many ways especially when you are in the hands of a medically trained massage therapist who has received advanced training in oncology.

A therapist with this advanced level of training understands the many dynamics of cancer, the treatments for cancer and the side effects of both. The knowledge the therapist acquires during advanced training guides them in the customization of the optimal bodywork session for your body in each moment of your cancer journey.

A trained therapist should be able to tell you why these changes are necessary and how they will work with your body where it is right now.

If you have ever received a cancer diagnosis, are currently receiving treatment or have ever received treatment for cancer in your life the safest way for you to get massage is to find a medically trained massage therapist who has the advanced education and experience in adapting your massage.

Good interview skills are essential when choosing a practitioner who will be a part of you treatment or recovery care team. Use the same parameters you used when seeking out your medical provider:

“Being able to receive massage during my treatments had allowed me focus on just me; and that begun to make feel whole again.” – Radiation Oncology Patient
  • Personal referral
  • Medical referral
  • Local Cancer Resource Directory

  • Local or National Alliances/Societies
  • Massage Educators
  • Licensing Agencies

A few questions that might help you know if you are working with a therapist who understands your needs are:

Ask your therapist if they have specialized training to work with someone living with a cancer diagnosis…

  1. If the answer is no we would recommend you keep looking or if you want to work with this therapist encourage them to seek out advanced training. Providing massage therapy for a person affected by cancer is not something that should be done without training. Any therapist who tells you that they have not had training, but “it shouldn’t be a problem” or “It’ll be ok. I’ll just work lightly.” simply doesn’t understand what kind of risks he/she is taking with your health and safety.
  2. If their answer is no, but I’ve worked in this field for many years we would recommend you follow up with some of their references and make your decision based on what you have learned about their work and work ethic.
  3. If their answer is yes ask about the training and hands on experience. Was it a book they read, an online internet course or was it an intensive course offered by an accredited school or individual which also integrated hands on experience.

Ask your therapist about their experience working with people with a cancer history…

As with any discipline, someone who has worked with many people over many years may feel preferable over someone who is newly trained. However, if they’ve had thorough training and you feel comfortable and safe with them please proceed.

There is much to know and learn about cancer, treatment options and treatment plans, any good therapist knows this and also knows when to defer to the “cause no harm” mantra if they are unfamiliar with an aspect of your situation. No massage therapist can “know it all”, but the more training and experience a therapist has the more likely they will be to provide you with the best and safest service possible.

Have a discussion about your specific medical diagnosis, history and treatment plan. Do they appear to understand what you are talking about? Listen to their response and treatment plan for things like pressure adjustment, session length/frequency, lymphedema risk, clotting issues, etc.

A medically trained therapist who specializes in oncology should be able to tell you some basic modifications to massage that might be necessary for your session. It’s a good sign if the information you share leads your therapist to ask you additional questions.

…”I understand you’ve had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, where are you in the reconstruction process? Are there any signs of lymphedema, if not have you spoken to your medical provider or physical therapists about preventative and maintenance steps you can take?”

…“You said you were receiving external radiation therapy, where are you at in your course of treatment, just starting, midway through, almost done? Have you had your treatment already today? Have you had surgery or received chemotherapy in the treatment of the cancer?”

Other questions you may have…

  • Do I need my physicians consent?
  • Do I need to tell my therapist everything?
  • Why did my therapist tell me to wait to get a massage?
  • Why shouldn’t I go to my regular massage therapist?
  • Can I use the spa gift certificate my work bought me?
  • How can I get a massage while I’m admitted to the hospital?
  • How can I get a massage if I am unable to leave my home?

 Call Medicine Hands, Inc. for the answers to any questions you may have.