By: Karen Menehan, MassageMag
A cancer patient might face such medical procedures as surgery, medication and chemotherapy, as well as ongoing treatment post-recovery.
Increasingly, therapies such as massage are used to mitigate pain and anxiety.
A new analysis of U.S. cancer centers’ websites indicates massage, along with acupuncture, consultations about nutrition and dietary supplements are the integrative therapies most commonly offered in National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated health systems.
Additionally, the analysis found a statistically significant increase in the number of websites mentioning integrative therapies, including massage therapy, on those systems’ websites in the last 12 years.
MASSAGE Magazine spoke with a leading oncology massage educator to help determine the reasons behind this growth.
Growth of Oncology Massage
The analysis states that the most common integrative medicine therapies offered in the NCI-designated health systems are consultations about nutrition (91.1 percent), dietary supplements (84.4 percent) meditation and yoga (68.9 percent each), massage therapy and acupuncture (73.3 percent each) and herbs (66.7 percent).
“Compared with 2009, there was a statistically significant increase in the number of websites mentioning acupuncture, dance therapy, healing touch, hypnosis, massage, meditation, Qigong and yoga,” according to the authors of “Growth of Integrative Medicine at Leading Cancer Centers Between 2009 and 2016: A Systematic Analysis of NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center Websites.”
Reasons for Growth
Johnnette du Rand Kelly is a massage therapist who practices oncology massage. She is also founding director of Greet The Day, a Newport Beach, California-based organization that provides therapies for adult and pediatric cancer patients and provides education for licensed professionals.
MASSAGE Magazine: The authors of the analysis mentioned that conventional cancer treatments can produce challenging effects like hot flashes, nausea and fatigue. How does massage therapy benefit cancer patients?
Johnnette du Rand Kelly: Research shows that massage reduces pain and anxiety.
When a cancer patient or family member asks me about the benefits of massage, I often like to also add that it is touch that feels good at a time when touch often does not, and that massage is a reminder for the patient that they can feel better, possibly even good, at a time when their body hurts.
Being able to meet the basic human need of safe and comforting touch is in and of itself therapeutic.
MM: In your experience, what has the response been by cancer patients to massage therapy? Are they aware of it, do they feel better after receiving it, do they request it?
JK: In both in- and out-patient settings, patients’ response to massage is, unsurprisingly, very welcoming and overwhelmingly receptive.
In the two academic cancer centers that Greet The Day works in, the patients who are aware of massage as an available service regularly request it. For others, it’s a pleasant surprise to be offered massage as a part of their care.
In the centers where we work the demand for massage outweighs the service availability, so at times the massage program feels like the best-kept secret at the cancer center.
MM: In your experience, why is there a trend toward more medical centers offering integrative therapies?
JK: As much as I’d like to say the trend toward more medical centers offering integrative therapies hinges on empathy and compassion in health care, I think it rests more on consumer demand, budget and workflow management.
Patients and the clinical staff who work with those patients are first-hand witnesses to—and already understand the benefits of—massage and other integrative therapies in in- and out-patient settings.
I think the growth that we are seeing with more medical centers offering integrative therapies such as massage for their patients hinges on patient request, aka client demand, situations where patient satisfaction scores can positively influence hospital federal funding, and the recognition of hospital administrators that massage not only feels good but does the patient good—and that the happier the patient is the less demanding they are on clinical staff time, which in turn helps better manage work load demand for nursing staff.
MM: What is the next step toward greater implementation of massage therapy in cancer-focused health care?
JK: The benefits of inpatient massage programs are well understood and fairly well established nationwide.
I think the next step necessities in supporting the development of these types of integrative care services for cancer patients are learning how to incorporate accredited continuing education for clinical staff on the value and benefits of integrative care for their patients, and recognizing the value of massage for cancer patients in the outpatient setting as a national norm.
During the course of cancer treatment, patients visit infusion treatment centers many times, and each of those visits often takes three hours and upwards.
As many patients as massage can reach in the inpatient setting, having massage available to cancer patients in outpatient settings would exponentially … expand the population served.
I think that focusing on the development of massage therapist competencies in infusion center massage delivery and as a contributing member of the health care team should be our next goal in helping mainstream health care delivery expand the reach of integrative care massage programs. (Editor’s note: Read “Your Guide to Employment in Oncology Massage” in the February 2018 print issue of MASSAGE Magazine.)
Analysis Citation: Hyeongjun Yun, Lingyun Sun, Jun J. Mao; “Growth of Integrative Medicine at Leading Cancer Centers Between 2009 and 2016: A Systematic Analysis of NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center Websites,” JNCI Monographs, Volume 2017, Issue 52, 1 November 2017.