Therapeutic massage has proven to be beneficial in the management of various types of cancers. Symptoms associated with cancers such as fatigue, depression, and pain are alleviated through therapeutic massage. Peripheral edema associated with breast cancer is generally treated with manual lymphatic drainage, physical therapy and compression bandages. However, there was indication in clinical trials that manual lymphatic drainage massage alone was helpful in patients with peripheral edema associated with breast cancer (NCCAM, 2006).
Lymphedema is a common complication after breast cancer surgery and it commonly occurs on the side of the arm where the surgery takes place. Almost all post breast cancer surgery patients develop lymphedema. Only symptomatic treatment can help and manual lymphatic drainage massage or manual lymphedema therapy is shown to be beneficial. Light pressure applied to the torso and arm help mobilize the fluid in edema. Massage is never applied directly over the area that may have received radiation. Mild lymphedema will usually resolve within three weeks and more severe cases will require a longer time for recovery (Kavanah, 2005).
Breast massage is gaining popularity for nursing mothers, patients with breast reduction and augmentation, breast mastectomy patients or as a part of breast cancer treatment. The only drawback has been legal implications associated with breast massage. The American Massage Therapy Association does not have specific policy regarding breast massage (Jordan, 2001).
Massage therapy was shown in clinical trials to reduce anxiety and depression and thus improved immune function. The immune function enhancement was through the increase in the number of T killer cells in women with breast cancer (Hernandez-Reif, 2003). Women who were diagnosed with breast cancer received massage therapy, progressive muscle relaxation techniques or received standard treatment. There was an increase in levels of dopamine, natural killer cells and lymphocytes. The increase began with the first day of therapy and stayed consistently high throughout the treatment and study (Hernandez-Reif, 2005).
To date all clinical studies have shown that therapeutic massage is helpful in prevention of breast cancer and in post-breast cancer treated patients. There is also evidence that pain is reduced through massage therapy, anxiety and depression is controlled and immune system is improved thus helping the body to cope better with breast cancer.
Kavanah, M and Charette, A. (2005) Patient Information: Lymphedema after breast cancer surgery. Retrieved from http://patients.uptodate.com/topic.asp?file=cancer/6211 on May 26, 2006
National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). (2006). Massage therapy for breast cancer treatment-related swelling of the arms. (Retrieved from http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct/show/NCT00058851?order=12 on May 22, 2006).
Jordan, K. (2001) The evolving practice of breast massage. Retrieved from http://www.massagetoday.com/archives/2001/09/03.html on May 21, 2006.
Hernandez-Reif, M., Ironsor, G., Field, T., Hurley, J., Katz, G., Diego, M., Weiss, S., Fletcher, MA., Shanberg, S and Kuhn, C. (2003) Breast cancer patients have improve immune and neuroendocrine function following massage therapy.Journal of Psychosomatic Reseach, 57,45-52.
Hernandez-Reif, M., Field, T., Ironson, G., Beutler, J., Vera, Y., Hurley, J., Fletcher, M., Schanberg, S., Kuhn, S., & Fraser, M. (2005). Natural killer cells and lymphocytes are increased in women with breast cancer following massage therapy. International Journal of Neuroscience,115, 495-510.