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Guest blog: what is Oncology Massage Therapy?


Guest blog: what is Oncology Massage Therapy?


A guest blog by Susan Findlay, Oncology Massage Therapy course provider.

What is Oncology Massage Therapy? And what makes oncology massage different?  These are the two questions I am most frequently asked by peers, clients and medical practitioners alike. Simply put, Oncology Massage Therapy (OMT) utilises conventional massage techniques and applies a tailored approach to clients suffering from cancer. Unlike conventional massage therapy, OMT places a specific focus on the clients’ state of health and the disease. 

OMT  is a complementary therapy that works alongside conventional medicine to help alleviate potential side effects that may develop from cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. Consequently improving both the clients’ well-being and quality of life. 

OMT is not just a collection of lighter massage strokes or techniques, but also a mindful touch; it’s about understanding the physical and emotional needs of the client. By communicating with clients in a comfortable and safe space, therapists are able to modify their techniques, positioning, speed, depth and duration of the massage. 

Due to the complexity of the disease, it is paramount that our therapists are well-versed in the side effects of cancer treatment, for example, clients may be suffering from lower blood count, lymphoedema or adjusting to surgical devices post-surgery, such as catheters and stoma bags. 

The benefits of Oncology Massage aren’t simply limited to relaxation and mental clarity. It has also been demonstrated that they provide relief from the physical symptoms and side effects of cancer treatment, often cited as the ‘Big Five’: pain, fatigue, nausea, depression and anxiety. Observations around the benefits massage has on the ‘Big Five’, have been validated by international research conducted by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, who carried out a 3 year study on 1300 cancer patients. While conducting the study, patients and staff noted a 47% improvement in pain levels, 42% improvement in fatigue levels, 59% improvement in anxiety levels and a 48% improvement in levels of depression after receiving a 20 or 60 minute massage therapy session[1]. With data suggesting that longer massage time provided longer lasting relief.  

A further study by Deborah Fellowes and colleagues, focused on aromatherapy and massage for reliving symptoms of cancer and cancer treatment. In Fellowes study they were able to demonstrate that massage consistently reduced anxiety and depression. Such findings have further compounded the efficacy of Oncology Massage in relieving symptoms of cancer treatment[2].

The massage we teach on our Oncology Massage Course is not exclusive to Oncology, however the sensitivity to the clients’ condition, the extensive training and the transfer of specialist medical knowledge from therapist to trainee are what make Oncology Massage so unique. By providing good Oncology Massage training, therapists are able to confidently create a space that both they, and the client can relax in. 

Such a careful and considered approach not only provides relief from physical symptoms, but it also creates an environment in which clients can share their feelings, feel relaxed and more positive about their own bodies. Once you start seeing a cancer patient, more often than not you will find that clients not only want massage therapy during their cancer treatment, but at all stages of the process; pre-treatment, post-treatment and during palliative care. 

It is this kind of relief that makes Oncology Massage such an under-used and valuable resource to those suffering from cancer and the medical community. 

Susan Findlay



Board Member GCMT


Director NLSSM 

44 (0) 775 4941 922

[1] Cassileth, B.R, Vickers, A.J. Massage Therapy for Symptom Control: Outcome Study at a Major Cancer Centre. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, NY. [2004] (3): p.244-9 

[2] Fellowes, D. Barnes, K. Wilkinson SSM. Aromatherapy and massage for symptoms relief in patients with cancer.Cochrane database of Systemic review [2008] Iss 4 


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