Student work: Massage Can Spread Cancer and is Always Contraindicated by Medea Taylor

Michelle Burns
August 4, 2015

During the course of attending massage school at A New Beginning School of Massage, students are given a number of assignments that requiring research and writing. Some of these assignments result in very insightful and  well thought out information and  decision-making outcomes. I am happy to share some of their assignments for you to enjoy.

There are two main types of research in the massage therapy profession. Basic research is normally conducted in a lab setting and measures information at the molecular, cellular and tissue level in the body. This type of research is used to optimize protocols and develop both applied research questions and translational research programs. The other type of research is clinical, or applied, research, and most massage research falls under this category. This type of research uses investigations on a functional level to test a specific measurement of the effects of massage on the body. In clinical or applied research, experiments are carefully designed to include two groups; a control group does not receive any treatment or receives a "sham" treatment and a group that actually receives treatment. The researchers are careful to control or document independent variables and the data collected is carefully analyzed to produce correct results. Other types of research include analytical research which focuses on complex issues and mechanisms and descriptive research which is based on surveys and interview questions.

In my opinion, all types of research in the massage therapy profession are valid. Some effects of massage therapy can be easily measured and validated. For example, range of motion and density of scar tissue can both be objectively measured to determine if there have been improvements or not. Some effects of massage therapy are subjective and based on the subject's perception of improvement or lack of. For example, pain management, depression and anxiety can be measured on standardized surveys but the changes (or lack of) will be affected by the subject. Some of the issues that affect a subject's perception are the belief that the treatment will work and their overall opinion of massage therapy. There is still work to do to improve research in massage therapy and this is made more complicated by the mind-body connection of massage and the varied systems it affects. Continuing to improve methodology and finding new ways to measure results is important to the future of massage therapy research.

Massage therapists can benefit greatly from staying on top of new developments in their profession by reading research studies and thinking critically about the results before putting them into practice. They must understand the criteria that makes research valid and correct. The most important criteria is to consider the source of the information. There are an overwhelming number of website that have massage information and determining the credentials of the publisher is important. A peer-reviewed journal is the best source to review research articles. These articles have been reviewed by other professionals for experiment design, methodologies used, correct data analysis and repeatability of the study. Other good sources are professional association websites, such as ABMP or AMTA. With any information, the massage therapist must think critically about what is being said and do further investigations into any questions they may have.

In my opinion, research is very important to the massage profession today. Research allows massage therapists to gain knowledge for ourselves and for our clients. We can use new information from research to better treat our clients and to be able to answer the questions they have about the way a technique affects the area it is being applied to. Research gives massage therapy validity in the medical community. This allows massage therapists to talk to members in the medical community about massage and how it can assist their patients. It also opens a path for insurance reimbursement making massage more affordable to more clients. Research in massage therapy that is done by massage therapist helps us to define our profession and helps to change the attitude that massage is an activity of self-indulgence or as a cover for other activities.

The research statement I chose is "massage can spread cancer and is always contraindicated."

cancer cell under microscope

cancer cell

I chose this statement because I have a strong interest in this area. The information reviewed for this statement includes "Massage therapy for cancer patients: a reciprocal relationship between body and mind" (Sager, SM and R.K. Wong. Current Oncology, Volume 14, Number 2, pp 45-54). For background information, I also read through the article "Could Massage Therapy Promote Cancer Metastasis?" dated 21 September 2000 from the website .

The background article "Could Massage Therapy Promote Cancer Metastasis?" gives important information on how cancer metastasizes. The main ways cancer is spread is by direct contact to nearby structures, through body cavities, bloodstream (hematogenous metastasis) and through the lymphatic system (lymphogenous metastasis). It discusses the event cycle for both hematogenous and lymphogenous metastasis as massage directly influences the flow of these systems. The conclusion is that massage does not promote metastasis through these avenues as patients are also advised to exercise and stay active–both of which contribute to the same system flows as massage. The bigger concern is metastasis through cell shedding from the primary tumor. There is concern that direct pressure or other strong stimuli applied directly on the tumor or near it, with greater risk being involved if the tumor is near the surface of the skin. The solution in this case is for the massage therapist to get as much information as possible about the tumor's size, location and depth and to avoid deep pressure at the site. Overall, the article concludes that cancer is not spread by massage and that it is up to the therapist, physician and patient to determine the risks of massage on cancer patients.

The main article reviewed discussed several research studies done on cancer patients for symptom control. The symptoms that were measured in most of these studies included pain, fatigue, depression, stress and anxiety. The main focus of most of the studies seemed to be on depression and anxiety. The authors discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the studies reviewed, acknowledging both the strengths and weaknesses of each study. Overall, the studies reviewed showed conflicting results. And the authors acknowledged that the symptom improvements may be due to many factors including belief of benefit (placebo effect), verbal communication, background music and aromatherapy. The authors stated that a better understanding of the mechanics of therapeutic massage is necessary with focus on the physiologic pathways and the connection between myofascial manipulation, blood flow and central nervous system adaptations. The article goes on to describe massage techniques in the Western tradition and Eastern tradition. The next section discusses the safety of massage therapy and states that it is safe when administered by a licensed massage therapist and that complications are rare. Any adverse effects of massage were generally due to massages done by laypeople or if techniques other than Swedish massage were used. The article lists special situations that the massage therapist needs to be aware of in cancer patients and advises avoiding massage or lightening the touch over areas that pose risk.

The article goes on to discuss the qualifications of the massage therapist in both the US and in Canada. The typical standard in the US is 500 hours and 2200 hours in Canada. It points out that massage therapists working with cancer patients need to have special training and education. The article discusses the reasons most clients get a massage, including back symptoms, relaxation, neck symptoms, mood disorders and leg symptoms in addition to cancer related symptoms. The authors conclude that the evidence is sufficient that therapeutic massage relieves a variety of symptoms and that clinical trials need to have a better design to determine which techniques are most efficient. The article also states that studies are necessary to understand the psychophysiological effects of massage and how they influence clinical practice. The article discusses the relationship between the physical and mental effects of massage and poses the question of whether it is better measured in the realm of psychotherapy instead of a medical model. The authors acknowledge the connection between the physiologic and the subconscious effects of massage. The article concludes that the relationship between the mechanistic effects of massage and the relief it provides are inconclusive and acknowledges the connection between the body and mind. The authors determine that more studies are necessary to understand this connection in relation to symptom control in cancer patients.

The research findings do not support the statement that massage of cancer patients can spread cancer and is always contraindicated. Both articles support the use of massage therapy in relief of cancer symptoms by a trained massage therapist. The articles provide information on how cancer is spread and that there must be special training of the massage therapist with excellent communication between the massage therapist, physicians, and patient. Both articles provide information on special considerations of clients with cancer and solutions on how to safely massage those clients.

The implications of this knowledge for me and my practice are widespread. It removes the fear of harming a client with cancer and concern that massage therapy can contribute to metastasis of cancer. It also reinforces the need for special training in order to safely perform massage therapy on clients with cancer. There is a need for elevated communication with the client and physician in order to avoid tumors that are close to the skin. This knowledge reinforces the need to understand cancer and the many side effects of the treatments available including knowledge of drugs and their side effects. This knowledge reinforces the need for a deep understanding of what is a local contraindication and what is an absolute contraindication for clients with cancer. Most importantly, the article confirms the connection between the mind and the body and how this connection can relieve common symptoms of cancer. The article confirms that physical touch affects the mind and the body and touch is safe for all clients with the proper knowledge and training.

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