The Benefits of Touch Therapy for Cancer

Potent treatments often come with potent side effects. Integrative therapies can support the mind, body, and spirit during cancer care and recovery. Words by Suzy Frisch.

Here are just a handful of ways that massage can help people with cancer cope:


Cancer patients experience all manner of pain stemming from surgery, chemotherapy infusions, radiation, or other medications. It’s one of the most common and debilitating symptoms they face. But massage can reduce the intensity and severity of pain.

Anxiety and Depression

It is common for people with cancer to have significant anxiety and depression while confronting many unknowns, both during and after treatment. Massage boosts dopamine and serotonin levels, calming the nervous system through touch.


When going through chemotherapy, many people lose their appetites and experience nausea, constipation, or other digestive problems. Light abdominal massage can often restore order.


Sleep is key to healing, and massage certainly helps with promoting relaxation and rest.


Massage by a qualified Lymphoedema Specialist addresses lymphedema, a common side effect for people with breast cancer especially. If surgeons remove lymph nodes, excess fluid often builds up and causes painful swelling in the arms and legs. MLD (manual lymphatic drainage) Massage can assist with draining that fluid.

When an oncology massage therapist does body work, it is different than a regular massage. These therapists have trained extensively in what cancer and treatments do to the body, mind, and spirit. They use different techniques depending on the individual’s experience and needs.

Some people can handle a normal touch and frequent massages. Others can tolerate just a light, short massage, perhaps focused on the hands and feet. When even that is too much, some people benefit from Reiki , a form of energy healing that involves a gentle touch or a laying of hands.

Experiencing cancer can be traumatic, and massage helps people release some of that stress and trauma stored in the body.

“There are a lot of people who go through this journey alone, and they don’t have to. Forming a therapeutic relationship with a massage therapist who is skilled in the side-effects and has good treatment knowledge, would make their journey easier. It would definitely make you feel like your hand is being held through it.”

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