When most people think of breast cancer treatments, chemotherapy and surgery are the first two things that typically come to mind. But a recent study has found that there are some wonderful health benefits to massage therapy as well.

Robyn Mackenzie

Though clearly a massage isn't going to cure anyone of cancer, having one has been shown to offer both physical and emotional benefits to women with breast cancer.

In a five week study conducted at the University of Minnesota in 2003, massage therapy was found to lower both anxiety and pain for women with stage I and II breast cancer. The patients who had received massage therapy also reported feeling less depressed and a reduced need for pain medication.

So if you are thinking of adding massage therapy to your breast cancer treatment, here are some things to know according to breastcancer.org...

  • If you've just had breast surgery, you should lie on your back for a massage until your doctor decides it is safe for you to lie on your stomach.
  • Deep massage, or any type of massage that involves strong pressure, should NOT be used if you are undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. People undergoing chemotherapy may have a decrease in red and white blood cells, so with deep massage, there is a risk of bruising. Since deep massage can be taxing to a system already vulnerable from chemotherapy and radiation, it is not recommended for people currently in treatment. Light massage can be used instead.
  • If you're currently undergoing radiation, your massage therapist should avoid touching any sensitive skin in the treatment area. Massage and massage oils can make already-irritated skin feel much worse. Your therapist should also avoid touching any temporary markings in the corners of the radiation treatment field. If you don't have skin irritation in the treatment area, any massage to this area should be done very lightly through a soft towel or cloth.
  • If you have had lymph nodes removed, the massage therapist should only use very light touch on your affected arm and the area around the underarm.
  • If you have arm lymphedema, the massage therapist should avoid the affected arm and underarm areas completely. Traditional massage therapy can worsen lymphedema. A massage therapist who has experience with breast cancer patients may already know this, but it's important to make sure he or she understands.
  • If you have arm lymphedema, your arm and underarm area should be treated by a different kind of massage especially for lymphedema, called manual lymphatic drainage. Look for a physical, occupational, or massage therapist trained and certified in manual lymph drainage to treat your lymphedema. Get more information about finding a lymphedema therapist.